Saturday, June 28, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: 'THE BACK OF THE NAPKIN: SOLVING PROBLEMS & SELLING IDEAS WITH PICTURES', by Dan Roam

I have always been fascinated by visual thinking & visual problem solving.

I attribute this captivation of mine partly to my engineering training - seeing the problem first before getting to the solution.

In the earlier years of my professional career, my field guide to visual thinking & visual problem solving happened to be Henning Nelms' 'Thinking with a Pencil'. I could relate to it very quickly because of my engineering work.

In subsequent years, I had picked up the mind-mapping techniques from Tony Buzan, which led me to explore other visual tools, partly fueled by my curiosity.

One of them was the mind-scaping techniques from Nancy Margulies. Another was the rapid visualisation techniques from Kurt Hanks, especially his wonderful book, 'Rapid Viz', which gave me a more fun & spontaneous approach.

As I moved into the upper echelons of marketing & management, in conjunction with my career progression, I came across Terry Richey's 'Marketer's Visual Toolkit: Using Charts, Graphs, & Models for Strategic Planning & Problem Solving'.

Prior to it, I didn't realise a simple box matrix could do so much wonders to understanding problems. As a matter of fact, today the Nine Block Matrix is one of my most favourite business analytical tools.

This was followed by Larry Raymond's 'Reinventing Communication: A Guide for Using Visual Language for Planning, Problem Solving & Re engineering'.

The journey metaphor was a real eye opener for me, especially in terms of thinking strategically.

Both of them certainly gave me many broad perspectives about using more effective visual approaches to get into the heart of business issues.

In the early nineties, I went to the United States to learn advanced visual tools from the legendary Jim Channon. It was an awesome learning experience for me.

His brilliant work then led me to discover David Sibbet of Grove Consultants, & Jerry McNellis (storyboarding), from both of whom I had learned to develop my own professional expertise in helping small businesses to expedite their problem solving as well as fine-tune their strategic planning techniques.

As part of my strategy consulting & training development work in the ensuing years, with entrepreneurs, professionals, managers as well as students, I also started to explore graphic organisers & other visual organisers as power tools to manage information overload.

In the last couple of years, a handful of experts have further expanded my personal understanding about making systems sense of challenging business situations. They are:

- Alex Lowry & Phil Hood, 'The Power of the 2x2 Matrix: Using 2x2 Thinking to Solve Business Problems & Make Better Decisions';

- John Bryson, 'Visible Thinking: Unlocking Causal Mapping for Practical Business Results';

I have even indulged in what I call 'deliberate doodling', with some great help from the work of Joy Sikorski.

As you can see, I have come a long way as far as exploring & practising visual thinking & visual problem solving are concerned. In many respects, my learning journey has been greatly influenced by the teachings of all the above mentioned experts.

Against this backdrop, I am very glad to meet Dan Roam, through his wonderful book, 'The Back of the Napkin'. I have come across the book at first while browsing through some body's blog. Fortunately, to my great delight, I have managed to get a copy from Kinokuniya Bookstore quickly.

I am still reading the book, & have yet to finish it - it's heavy gooing for a book on visual thinking - but I have already started with real-world prototyping for use in my strategy consulting work.

In a nutshell, the book has four critical sections, from my point of view, with two supporting technical appendices & an extended case study:

- Part I: Looking at the problem;
- Part II: Seeing & Discovering Ideas;
- Part III: Imagining & Developing Ideas;
- Part IV: Showing & Selling Ideas;

My initial adverse response while reading this book is that I have to get used to the hand-drawn stick figures [which I don't like] in the book, & also the need to do flip-flopping between images & text, but after a while, I just get used to them & finally, reading becomes a breeze, even though textually, it's very dense.

Tactically, it is a do-it-yourself book. So you have to work with it systematically to get what you need.

Actually for me, & in application terms, the book is an expanded intellectual extension of Kurt Hank's rapid visualisation techniques, which are more spontaneous & artful, but Dan Roam has put in a more systems perspective - almost structured & yet still free-form, in a limited sense - to view issues or problems.

What I like about the book from the beginning is the author's "Guide Rope to Visual Thinking", which outlines his comprehensive 4-step process, 3 built-in tools & 6 ways of seeing. They are basically the foundational tools, while the latter forms the six fundamental questions that guide how we see the world.

I am glad that the "6 ways of seeing" has sparked off an interesting idea at my end - I can now synergise - in fact, I like to use the term 'synconvergise' from Michael Gelb - what I had picked up from an earlier book, 'So What? The Definitive Guide to the Only Business Questions that Matter', by Kevin Duncan, which I had reviewed earlier.

All I can say so far is that all the techniques as introduced by the author certainly build on, or rather amplify, my current repertoire of abilities & skills to view, simplify & summarise complicated concepts with simple pictures.

To end this post, let me paraphrase the author: "Welcome to a whole new way of looking at business . . . The heart of business is the art of problem solving . . . Visual thinking means taking advantage of our innate ability to see . . ."

THE BATTLE FOR MARKET SUPREMACY

This week, I can't help noticing the latest salvo of testimonial ads from 'MindChamps', one of the major purveyors of enrichment programs & motivational camps for students in Singapore.

What has struck my immediate personal attention are the captions:

"Beware of people who: . . . present unaudited figures, claiming to have "trained" hundreds of thousands of students when their resources could not possibly achieve & handle such number."

followed by:

"See how MindChamps programs differ from "hyped up" programs based on 'guru' motivational speakers without substantial educational or scientific credentials."

Obviously, in my personal view, 'MindChamps' is taking pot shots at primarily the two locally entrenched competitors, namely, 'SuperTeen Holiday Camps' & 'I am Gifted, So Are You' Camps.

Incidentally, to recap, 'MindChamps' from Australia, following generous capital injection from the Hong Leong Group last year, has made relatively deep penetration in the hotly contested local market space for enrichment programs & motivational camps for students.

From its inception in 1986, 'SuperTeen Holiday Camps' had been the undisputed kingpin in the marketplace.

However, in early 2002 or 2003, that market domination changed completely, when the protege suddenly broke away from the master. 'I am Gifted, So Are You' Camps then became the new kid in the block. A battle royale ensued, even up to today.

I can well understand the validity of the first caption by 'MindChamps'.

If one read carefully the ads of the two locally entrenched competitors vs the information on their corporate websites, as well as their affiliate websites or blogs, one can easily spot the numerous blatant discrepancies.

Let's take a look at 'Asia's Top Learning Expert & Success Coach', as a case in point:

- in his recent ad in the Straits Times: " . . . have enabled more than 300,000 students (& 2,500 teachers);

- on the home page of his corporate website: " . . . over 183,000 people have benefited from our life changing product & seminars."

- in his blog post dated May 30th 2008: "Every year, . . . trains close to 39,000 students (from 5 countries) . . . In fact, 25% of all Singapore Schools engage my company as their chosen education partner."

- in his blog post dated March 7th 2008: "We have reached out to more than 500,000 people and 110 organisations through our comprehensive range of unique, inspirational and dynamic programmes."

- in his blog post dated February 10th 2008 with the 2007 Report Card: "In 2007 . . . empowered & touched the lives of 179,201 people!

A blog reader wrote in to point out an arithmetical error - the total should be 172,440 people!

Worst still, & to my surprise, this total agregate includes 112,000 people who had bought the author's books!!!

As for his first mentor, who was "the first to bring accelerated learning to the region in 1985 & with 25 years of practice in teaching people how to learn", the numbers claimed are somewhat more subdued, even though they don't gel well if one reads them carefully across different mediums - the given aggregate can range from 10,000 students to 120,000 students.

In fact, I am quite intrigued with his assertion (on his corporate website) that "he has trained over 150,000 principals, teachers, professionals, parents & students."

Obviously, our two locally entrenched competitors prefer to play a radically different kind of numbers game.

Interestingly, 'SuperCamp', a 25-year world leader in youth achievement has helped more than 45,000 students from 50 states (of the United States) & 80 countries achieve academic & personal success. [Source: Bobbi dePorter's 'The 7 Biggest Teen Problems & How to Turn Them into Strengths', published in July 2006.]

As for the second caption in 'MindChamps' latest ad, it's a very subjective issue.

It's widely known that 'Asia's top learning expert & success coach' had been a protege of the founder of 'SuperCamp Holiday Camps'. The latter, a holder of a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, had earlier mastered his teaching skills from Eric Jensen, co-founder of 'SuperCamp', plus a host of other well-known learning experts, including Tony Buzan.

Also, both gentlemen have been certified appropriately as NLP masters & trainers. They have also penetrated regional markets.

I am well aware that 'MindChamps' has struck a technical collaboration with the famed neuro-scientist, Prof Allan Synder, but that doesn't mean that the two locally entrenched competitors are less qualified &/or their teaching methods are not scientifically endorsed.

After all, the two locally entrenched competitors have garnered impressive track records over the years, even though their so-claimed numbers are not audited &/or are plagued with rampant inconsistencies.

It is pertinent to point out that our Singaporean parents are definitely not dumb. They read quite widely & keep themselves up-to-date, especially with today's Internet & networking. Education involving their children is always foremost in their minds.

If you are not good, you will automatically find yourself out of business. This has already happened to other newcomers.

The way I see it, the battle for market supremacy is likely to continue without abatement.

All I can say is that the consumer now has more choices.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Everyone is in sales. In almost any profession, people must be skilled at selling themselves & their ideas,
not just their company's product or service."

(Jay Abraham, maverick marketing guru & author of 'Getting Everything You Can Out of All You've Got';)

IS HOME TUITION THE ULTIMATE ANSWER? IV

[continue from the Last Post]

A blog reader of mine, also a mother of two kids, has recently emailed me to share her sentiments about our Singapore's education system. She was adamant that home tuition or rather enrichment is the ultimate answer.

She also related her personal encounter in a parent-teacher meeting, with the following revelations:

- the school principal is only interested in A+ results from her students in the school;

- the school teachers do not know how to teach;

Her adverse comments resonate with my own findings as well as conversations with other parents.

Let me expand further.

With due respect, it is apparent to me that the school principal obviously doesn't understand the true meaning of education. He or she probably believes in the "fill them up" approach.

Education has its Latin root word from "educare" which means "to draw out". Regrettably, it seems to me that schools are more interested in stuffing things into our children.

Worst still, our school teachers often treat their teaching routines like regimented rituals.

Unlike those innovative & hard-working trainers or success coaches in motivational camps, they simply don't know how to make learning fun & exciting.

To put it bluntly, our school teachers don't know how to teach our children about "learning how to learn", & more importantly, "how to learn fast!".

Let me digress from here a little bit.

Over the years, I have done a lot of random surveys among students to get a sense of what seemed to be their biggest problems in school, with learning & at home.

I can narrow them down to the following quick summary of common problems among students, based on their frank feedback:

1) lack of a vision or directions in life, resulting in lack of focus in their studies;

2) lack of self-confidence;

3) fear of the unknown as well as failure, or rather making mistakes & failing the exams, thus not meeting mums & dads' expectations;

4) lack of effective study skills;

5) love-hate of procrastination;

6) inter-personal problems, including family, siblings, teachers, & friends (or BGR);

7) too much external distractions, especially in today's fast-paced world;

8) to much homework &/or school projects;

9) addictions to computer & video games & other modern technological conveniences;

10) boring teachers, resulting in not understanding what the hell they are babbling about in class;

Interestingly, I have also conducted random surveys of their parents' expectations, with the view of understanding what are the specific areas they want their children to improve.

These are the results, in summarised form:

1) having a desire to excel;

2) having a sense of responsibility;

3) kicking some bad habits e.g. daydreaming, always on the phone, laziness, disorganisation, distractions, etc.;

4) appreciating more/complaining less;

5) having more discipline in time management;

6) speaking up & communicating more with parents & siblings;

7) general improvement in grades;

Strategically speaking & from my professional experiences, I have come to the conclusion that tackling the first four issues systematically, i.e.

- lack of vision;
- lack of confidence;
- fear of failure; &
- lack of skills;

[recap: the first 3 = soft skills; last one = hard skills;], among all the common problems of students can easily & readily resolve all the other issues, including the whole gamut of parents' expectations.

In fact, this is always the preferred tactical approach of trainers or success coaches in all motivational camps. Just take a quick browse of the relevant information on their corporate websites.

I am very surprised that schools, or more specifically, the school principals & school teachers, don't realise these implications & ramifications.

From my viewpoint, I reckon what the trainers or success coaches can do, I am sure our school principals & teachers can do as well or maybe even better, considering the availability of resources as well as competent professionals from MOE at their disposal.

[As far as I know, a 7-year empirical study was actually done by an educator/researcher, Jeannette Vos, on the success endeavours of the world-acclaimed 'SuperCamp', which also operate in Singapore. In fact, it was her doctoral dissertation, & she wrote about it in her book, 'The Learning Revolution', during the mid-nineties with Gordon Dryden. Her study results were also captured in Bobbi dePorter's 'Quantum Learning'.]

[to be continued in the Next Post]

BAD MOON RISING

Today is Saturday. I woke up quite early, just before 6.30am.

My usual morning routine, while answering nature's call, is always to browse through the Straits Times.

What I have read in the 'Saturday' section doesn't look good. On the front page, it carries a special report regarding the controversy involving SWFs (sovereign wealth funds).

Here's a quick sampling of what follows:

"Prepare for global financial storm, warns British bank" (It's Barclays);

"Oil jumps to new record as global stocks tumble"; (It passes US$142 a barrel!)

"Wish what we want, higher oil prices are here to stay" - from a hedge fund manager;

"Barclays needs US$24 billion to bolster capital, says Citibank", followed by a comment from a Cibibank analyst: "With credit market conditions continuing to deteriorate globally, we believe it is simply a matter of time before further significant write-downs are taken."

"Asian nations need 'clear resolve' to tackle inflation" - a warning from our Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam;

"STI & Asian bourses weaker on Wall Street crisis" - it seems that the carnage on Wall Street was sparked mainly by soaring oil prices, but lingering fears over the global financial sector, inflation & the health of the United States economy;

"Fund managers expect sluggish growth this year" - this is apparently based on a poll of 15 fund managers by OCBC Bank's wealth management unit, expressing fears that the slowdown could even stretch into next year;

No wonder, I had a little bit of problem answering nature's call this morning. Under normal circumstances on other days, it's always a smooth, continuous flow, so to speak.

My favourite song, 'Bad Moon Rising', by CCR, continues to reverberate in my mind.

Friday, June 27, 2008

ELEPHANT JOKES

1. What time is it when ten elephants are chasing you?
A. Ten after one!

2. What game do elephants like to play the most?
A. Squash!

3. How do you stop a charging elephant?
A. Take away its credit cards!

4. What do you get when you cross an elephant with a whale?
A. A submarine with a built-in snorkel!

5. What do you get when you cross an elephant with a kangaroo?
A. Holes all over Australia!

6. What is beautiful, gray and wears glass slippers?
A. Cinderelephant!

7. What is the difference between an Indian and an African elephant?
A. About five thousand kilometers!

8. How do elephants talk to each other?
A. By 'elephone!

9. What do elephants take when they get hysterical?
A. Trunkquilizers!

10. Where do elephants with skin care problems go?
A. To a Pachydermatologist!

11. What is big, gray and can fly straight up?
A. An elecopter!

[Source: Kids for Tigers]

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

What am I made of?

inspired by the latest Tag Heuer ad, featuring Tiger Woods & his Link Automatic;

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

“For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it. For every truth there is an ear somewhere to hear it. For every love there is a heart somewhere to receive it.”
(Ivan Panin, 1855–1942, a Russian emigrant to the United States, who achieved fame for claiming that the text of the Hebrew & Greek Bible contained numeric patterns;)

THE POWER OF EYE CONTACT

While hunting for the lyrics of the 'Eye of the Tiger' song on the net, I stumbled on to this fascinating article about eye contact by Maggie Fitzpatrick on the net.

Here's the link.

Don't forget to read also another fascinating article, entitled 'Up to My Eyeballs in It: Eye Exercises', by Janelle Harris. She shared a slightly unorthodox workout routine for the eyes.

THINKING IN THE FUTURE TENSE

I have picked up this great idea from Jim Carroll, a strategic thinker for businesses & author of two great books, 'What I Learned from frogs in Texas: Saving Your Skin with Forward Thinking Innovation' & 'Ready, Set, Done: How to Innovate when Faster is the New Fast'.

According to him, one of the best ways to get a sense of the velocity that is occurring as a result of rapid scientific change & the infinite idea loop is by taking a look at the world around our life, & thinking about how it might change.

He calls it 'The 10 Things Test'. I call it thinking in the future tense - thanks to Jennifer James.

These are his specific instructions.

Sit in a room, whether at work, home in a factory, retail store or wherever we might be, & take a look around.

Compile a list of 10 items that we see, & the sit back & ask:

"How might these things change in the next decade?"

He adds: If we really took the time to think about the items we examine, we might be very surprised by the depth of the change that is coming.

NOTES FROM MY SCRATCHPAD: A GOOD STRATEGY FOR GETTING THINGS DONE

Here's are some of my key notes on getting things done:

1) BASICS:

Before making any commitment, make sure that the fundamentals are right.

2) MOVE FAST:

Your goal is to get things moving - moving fast - & build the momentum.

3) REFINE:

Refine & work out all the details. The point is that, working in a refining mode at a too early stage can be a deadly mistake.

[Source: Jon Erlendsson]


1) identify all the stuff in your life that isn’t in the right place (close all open loops);

2) get rid of the stuff that isn’t yours or you don’t need right now;

3) create a right place that you trust & that supports your working style & values;

4) put your stuff in the right place, consistently;

5) do your stuff in a way that honors your time, your energy, & the context of any given moment;

6) iterate & refactor mercilessly;

[Source: 43 Folders]

[For more tip & tools on getting things done, visit this link.]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

1) who am I, & what are my deepest values? what do I really care about?

2) what is my purpose in life? why am I here, & what am I meant to do?

3) if I am true to myself, what should I be doing next?

inspired by 'Edgewalkers: People & Organisations That Take Risks, Build Bridges, & Break New Grounds', by Judi Neal;

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got."

(Janis Joplin, 1943–1970, an American singer, songwriter, & music arranger;)

IN THE EYE OF THE TIGER: SURVIVAL PRINCIPLES FROM SYLVESTER STALLONE'S LIFE & FILMS, by Gerald Chuah

I had come across this self-published book inadvertently while surfing the net one day. I am always looking for some new stuff on the net - books, articles, pod casts, gadgets, technology, ideas, etc.

Subsequently, I had a brief communication with the author via email, & got hold of the book about a week later. It cost me a hefty US$45/-, including shipping from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Singapore.

Frankly, after perusal, I have found it to be a ragtag compendium of Zen-like aphorisms & nuggets of wisdom captured from Sylvester Stallone's real-life struggles as a screen writer, actor & movie director, as well as from his principal characterisations in many of the 'Rocky' & 'Rambo' movies.

Actually, it has been quite difficult for me to delineate them, or more specifically the real world from the reel world.

Using all of them as an intellectual platform, & with "the eye of the tiger" ("staying focused") as a core philosophy, the author has skillfully inter-weaved them into motivating principles for anyone who wants to pursue his fondest dreams in the face of impossible odds, e.g. "Nothing is impossible if you believe & set your mind to it."

In this respect, I must compliment the author, Gerald Chua, a journalist by profession with the Straits Times in Malaysia [that actually gave him an added advantage on account of the ready availability of information sources], for his excellent patchwork, which he had artfully organised into 47 survival principles, under 7 key chapters & spreading over 200 odd pages, & supported with 36 black & white illustrations.

Nonetheless, the book is also interspersed with inspiring quotes from other sources.

Undoubtedly, the author is a die-hard fan of Sylvester Stallone.

For him, it was a fantasy dream, which started in 1988, & now finally manifested in the real world, after almost a decade of challenge to complete the book. He even got the actor's mother to launch the finished book in Kuala Lumpur last year.

Surprisingly, Sylvester Stallone took only 3 days to write the movie script for 'Rocky', according to New York Times. If our hero had been truly inspiring, how come the author took ten years to finish his book?

In some way, I am also a raving fan of Sylvester Stallone, but I am not that crazy as the author.

I would consider the actor as one of my perennial favourites, which include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Jean Claude van Damme, Jet Li, & Wesley Snipes.

Frankly, over the years, I have seen most of the actor's action movies - some of them several times on cable television - starting with Rocky I in the mid-seventies.

Interestingly, each survival principle in the book is prefaced with an appropriate quote from our hero, then followed by some excerpts from various interviews he had given as well as portions of dialogue from his action movies. Then the author made some vain attempts to offer his own explanations to help or challenge the reader to use them as motivational material.

I would have expected the author to use real-life incidents or personal observations to illustrate the many concepts rather than to dabble in his own vague expositions, which often got himself &/or readers more confused.

A case in point:

On page 139, & according to Rambo, "Expendable . . . is like someone invites you to a party & you don't show up, it doesn't really matter."

The author followed up with his own explanation: "Being expendable means surviving against the odds by creating a way out of a hopeless situation, by looking for opportunities in all direction."

Then, he made a spurious attempt to draw a parallel with "lateral thinking" from Edward de bono, & ended up saying " . . . it means having the resourcefulness to use whatever means available to you to get ahead."

All his assertions made no sense to me at all.

What irks me more were my own momentary distractions &/or irritations during the reading, arising from having to spot numerous typographical errors, some grammatical mistakes, a handful of meshed words, slightly lop-sided pages & inconsistent formatting of sentences in the book. I presume the author had probably used incompatible software as far as "screen to print" is concerned.

To a die-hard fan, all these "incongruities" may be minor imperfections, but to a reviewer, I take my work very seriously, especially after I had to fork out US$45/- for the book.

In the end analysis, I have noted that the author did not offer any specific strategies for the reader to take away the survival principles for personal application &/or final implementation.

Sad to say, the reader is left much to his or her own personal devices in having to plod through the book with a fine tooth comb.

In fairness to the author, I reckon that the book can still serve as a wonderful memento if you are a die-hard fan. It is rather unique in the sense that an Asian journalist has successfully packaged all the motivational stuff from published sources into one single collection.

[Gerald Chua runs a website & a few inter-related weblogs. Here's the link to the website. They are set up primarily as self-promotional vehicles.]

INTERSECTION OR JUXTAPOSITION OF IDEAS

The SME Spotlight in the Wednesday issue of the Straits Times posted an inspiring story about Ong & Ong, a local architectural firm that was built by the late former president Ong Teck Cheong & his beloved wife, both architects, in 1972.

Following the demise of the two founders, & also compounded by the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the company went through tough times & an eventual revamp under the leadership of Mr Ong Tze Boon, the second son of the founders.

The company recently received an SME Growth Excellence Recognition award for its sales turnover, which stood at about S$14 million last year, a 27% increase from 2006.

More importantly, the company is now a fully integrated practice, with landscaping, architectural design, interior & graphic design, & other environmental solutions for the property owner.

Actually, what intrigues me most is not what I have just described above, but a story related by the younger Ong about his chance meeting with Mr Gary Hoover, founder of bookstore chain 'Bookstop', now a part of Barnes & Noble chain, in 2004.

"He looked around him in the 1980's & saw the many hypermarkets that had everything under one roof. It occurred to him that bookstores could do the same thing, & he then established 'Bookstop' [billed as "the first book superstore"]," said Mr Ong.

"If there's anything you can guide your company by, Mr Hoover said, "it's looking at what other companies outside your industry are doing. Ask yourself how they do it, & see how you can implement that in your industry. That stuck with me forever, & it's now something I subscribe to."

He put that piece of wisdom into practice in his own firm.

In a nut shell, breakthrough insights often occur at novel intersections or juxtapositions of ideas, when we bring random concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory.

To end this post, I really like the way Mr Ong sums up his success story:

"If your internal rate of change is slower than the external rate of change, you will become obsolete."

This is, in broad terms from the application perspective, the Law of Requisite Variety, according to Ross Ashby, British scientist.

"My mother told me: 'Don't chase after money. Pursue what you enjoy & the money will find you."

This is the precessional effect, according to R Buckminster Fuller, American scientist & philosopher.

[I strongly recommend readers to read:

- 'Hoover's Vision: Original Thinking for Business Sucess', by Gary Hoover - (his exploration of curiosity & how we see the world through different lenses & also what others do not is one of the best ever written);

- 'Medici Effect: What Elephants & Epidemics can Teach us about Innovation', by Frans Johansson - (one of the most insightful books I have ever read about managing innovation, especially when it occurs when people see beyond their own field of expertise & approach situations with fresh eyes, toward putting available resources together in novel combinations);]

A DOSE OF SUNSHINE IS THE KEY TO LONGER LIFE

I always believe in the health benefits from a small dose of sunshine in the morning.

That's why my wife & I always enjoy the morning sunshine when we walk to the Jurong East Sports Centre for our regular gym practice from Monday to Friday. It takes about twenty minutes or so. After the gym, we walk back along the same route.

Generally, on the way back, the sun is often much hotter & brighter, since the time is around 11am or so.

Sometimes, my wife stays back to play badminton with her girl-friends. By the time she returns, it is often around 12.30pm, when the sun is even worse.

Fortunately, along some stretches of the walking route, some sun shade is provided by HDB blocks - with covered walkways - & huge trees within the estate as well as along the main road. Understandably, my wife often carries an umbrella when we walk directly under the sun. As an additional protection, she wears a jacket.

Hence, I have found the latest research finding by Harald Dobnig of the University of Graz in Austria in the Archives of Internal Medicine, as reported in the Wednesday issue of the Straits Times, about the connection between mortality & Vitamin D (which is made by our body during exposure to sunshine), as good news.

Of course, we all know that spending hours in the sun is going to spell trouble, arising from the possible risk of skin cancer.

In the same newspaper, particularly the 'Mind Your Body' supplement, there was also an interesting article about the dark side of the sun: dangers of ultra-violet rays & the damage to our eyes & skin under overexposure.

Fortunately, I always wear my Polaroid sunglasses whenever I am out of the apartment.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Every man receives two kinds of education; the one given to him by someone else, & the other, far more important, that which he gives himself."

(Prof E B Szekely, in the introduction of his book, 'The Art of Study & the Method of Learning';)

A PERSONAL TRIBUTE TO DATUK ERIC CHIA

I am very sad to read that my former big boss in the UMW Group, Malaysia, had passed away yesterday. He was reportedly to be 75 years old.

As a professional during the eighties, I had learned a lot about thinking strategically from this hot-shot, who was sent to Malaysia from Singapore during the early years by the late founder of the group, who was also his late father, Chia Yee Soh, to run the Malaysian operations.

Just a few years after I had joined the company in early 1981, the UMW Group was generating almost a billion dollars of business, following the timely acquisition of the Toyota motor-car franchise.

Unfortunately, it went through a very tough patch in the late eighties or so, resulting in the Chia family having to sell off their controlling interests.

I have already written quite a number of posts regarding my personal encounters - real-world learning experiences, to be exact - with Datuk Eric Chia.

Because of his towering physique & booming voice, & not forgetting his fiery temper, he often cast a formidable presence in business meetings as well as social settings.

I read that he grew up as a grease monkey repairing automotive as well as heavy equipment & construction machinery. So he had an in-depth working knowledge of machines. In other words, he knew all about the bolts & nuts, even in intimate details.

Not only that, he was a superb salesman & tough negotiator.

After having spent three months with the Advanced Management Program at Harvard University, & with renewed gusto, he geared up the UMW Group into a rapidly expanding growth trajectory.

The Italian Fiat manufacturing plant in Johor & the Toyota motor car franchise were some of the priced acquisitions.

During my five years with the UMW Group, which was then handling Japanese big-ticket agencies like Komatsu heavy equipment & construction machinery, Mitsubishi industrial & marine engines, Isuzu dumper trucks, & Toyota forklifts, I heard many stories that Japanese principals often shivered whenever they held sales & after-sales discussions with him.

To their chagrin, they could not out-smart or out-negotiate with a guy who knew thoroughly about the machinery business.

Besides the few business meetings presided by him, I had the opportunity to meet up with him on several occasions in less formal settings, while I was stationed in Bangkok, Thailand, & once in Tokyo, Japan.

For me, each encounter with him, irrespective of whether it was for business or otherwise, was always a terrific learning experience.

He often liked to instill in sales people of the company to have a keen nose for the ground - really feeling the pulse of the business, knowing your own stuff as well as your customers extremely well, & also knowing your competitors extremely well too, & always thinking - at least two to three steps - ahead of the competition.

Although, I reckon that, from the amusing stories he often shared, he somehow had condoned most human vices, especially among the sales people, so that they could always "stay hungry, stay natural".

In fact, I could never forget one of his off-the-cuff advice: "Don't eat & shit at the same place." Readers probably know what he had meant.

On the personal & social side, Datuk Eric Chia was a very jovial & down-to-earth person. He could talk about anything from nuts & bolts to corporate strategy, & everything else in between.

He might have the tough-guy image, but I heard that he often had a soft spot for people who were loyal to him.

I found out, to my great dismay, that he had a voracious appetite for good food. Once, in Bangkok, Thailand, after having a sumptuous meal for two at the famous shark's fin restaurant in Siam Square, he said he was still hungry.

He wanted to eat Peking duck [In those days, the ducks were often raised in open rice fields; hence, their skin was thin, crispy & juicy without the fat, when charcoal-toasted] & braised goose's webbed-legs, Teochew style.

So, both of us popped into another restaurant not too far away to satisfy his craving.

After the eating spree, I had never felt so bloated in my entire life.

Then, he said he wanted to eat the famous Durian ice-cream at Pan-Pan along Soi Asoke, off Sukhumvit Road.

So, we zooomed off to the little joint with the Thai company driver (Ukrit, I could still remember his name) to get our icy dessert. The ice cream was, as usual, really out of this world (no kidding!), but for me it was pure torture trying to stuff it into my overloaded system.

On a sober note, it was quite sad to learn that he got unwittingly entangled with a web of political intrigue arising from the Perwaja Steel fiasco during the past administration of Dr Mahathir.

I strongly believe that this unpleasant episode probably upset him the most in the latter years of his life, since it had totally disrupted his family.

To end this post, I wish to offer the Chia family, his wife & his two children, my deepest condolences for their loss of a great son, loving husband & doting father, whom I had really admired as a professional.

[The Tan Sriship was probably awarded to Datuk Eric Chia well after I had left the UMW Group in the mid-1987. Nevertheless, I will always remember him fondly as Datuk Eric Chia.]

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

MEET THE POWERFUL NEW YO!DOLPHIN! WORLDVIEW SURVEY!

If you are a raving fan, like me, of the classic 'Strategy of the Dolphin: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic World' book by Dudley Lynch, I am very confident you'll be intrigued by his latest quick self-analysis questionnaire for the extraordinary new Yo!Dolphin Worldview Survey.

In a matter of minutes, you'll know exactly what your primary worldview is.

Incidentally, I have found out mine is Dolphin Prime!

And with the complete Yo!Dolphin! report, in another few moments, you can have the full details on the kind of precise, applicable "insider information" that makes the Yo!Dolphin report like no other self-assessment report you've ever read!

In fact, like no other self-assessment tool of this generation!

To find out more information, just go here.

[Dudley Lynch is the founder & principal consultant of Brain Technologies, an established source of unique, highly effective personality tests & "how to" literature & services, dedicated to improving how people think.

In addition to 'Strategy of the Dolphin', he is the principal author of:

- 'The Mother of All Minds: Leaping Free of an Outdated Human Nature';
- 'Your Dolphin High-Performance Business Brain: 21st Century Thinking Skills for Ambitious People Under Challenge or Under Fire';
- 'Evergreen: Playing a Continuous Comeback Business Game' (with David Neenan);
- 'Code of the Monarch: An Insider's Guide to the Real Global Business Revolution' (with Paul Kordis);

He is also the principal developer of the world's most uniquely productive personality profiles, namely:

- 'Asset Report';
- 'The BrainMap';
- 'The mCircle Instrument';
- 'MindMaker';
- 'PathPrimer';

I first came across the work of Dudley Lynch during the mid-eighties, through his now out-of-print book, 'Your High-Performance Business Brain, an Operator's Manual : How to Fine-tune the Management Mind to Increase Productivity & Profits'.

Since then, I have read & digested all his other works, as well as gone through all his profile instruments.

I must reiterate that his pragmatic insights have invariably enabled me to chart out my own journey in the search for personal mastery.]

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of
yourself."

(Shunryu Suzuki, 1904-1971, Zen Master from Japan;)

IS HOME TUITION THE ULTIMATE ANSWER? III

[continue from my Last Post]

I have read recently that the Singapore government spends 20% of his national budget on education. That works out to S$8 billion dollars.

In international competitions involving mathematics & sciences, our Singapore students often consistently rank among the top.

As a matter of fact, many of our school textbooks pertaining to mathematics & sciences are often reportedly used by schools in other countries, including the United States.

Singapore's relentless pursuit of meritocracy & excellence in the education system is the envy of many regional countries.

So, at one end, it seems that our Ministry of Education (MOE) has done a good job, & yet on the other end, there seems to be some problems with our education system, which unwittingly puts our Singaporean parents, together with our poor school children, on a dicey spot of having to face this perennial dilemma with home tuition or motivational camps.

Interestingly, as reported in the local newspapers, & judging from the rampant testimonial ads by purveyors of motivational camps, tuition teachers, trainers or success coaches are apparently producing wonderful academic results with their student participants.

More importantly, the student participants have also picked up valuable life skills to empower themselves to take charge of their own lives & move forward with renewed confidence.

The way I see it, these tuition teachers & success coaches have definitely mastered & imparted valuable academic success techniques to the students. What surprises me most from this development is how come our school teachers are not keen to learn from & draw upon to help their own students in the schools.

From what I understand from the advertised track records (on the websites) of these purveyors, many schools have in recent years sponsored such motivational camps for students on their premises.

On the other hand, I have noted that, in the marketplace, there are many good books, published locally &/or written by local authors, & covering a gamut of academic success techniques for students as well as for teachers.

In fact, I can even name many:

- 'Secrets of Success: Singapore's Top O & A Level Students Reveal How They Got Their Super Scores', by H Sidhu;

- 'Breeze Through Exam: The Art of Passing with Flying Colours', by Dr Low Guat Tin;

- 'How to Get Good Grades & Still Keep Your Fabulous Reputation as a Cool Person', by Kris Bearss;

- '60 Strategies for Success in School: How to be a A Student & More!', by Ho Wai Luen;

- 'The Learning Roadmap: A Framework for Learning in the New Economy', by Lance Ng;

- 'I am Gifted, So Are You', by Adam Khoo;

- 'The Art of Studying: From School to University & Beyond' by Anthony Lee;

- 'Make Memory Work for You', by Dr Daniel Theyagu;

- 'Guide to Success in Studies Without Tears & Fears', by Dr Daniel Theyagu;

- 'Scholar's Secrets', by George Tan;

- 'Deeper than the Ocean', by Brian Caswell & David Chiem (foreign authors of the 'MindChamps' fame, but the book is published locally);

- 'The Joys & Pains of Growing Up', by Peter Lau;

[Note: These local book titles have been extracted from my personal library collection. Well, I always like to support local authors. Many of the authors are recognised educators in their own right. Their books are essentially targetted at students, but they provide valuable hints & tips for teachers as well. I reckon many of the earlier titles mentioned above are now probably out of print.]

Naturally, I have also noted that, in the marketplace, there are also numerous books on academic success techniques from overseas, especially the United States & UK. The better ones are those written by authors or educators of international stature, e.g. Eric Jensen, Bobbi dePorter, Tony Buzan, & Gordon Dryden, just to name a few.

[Both Eric Jensen & Bobbi dePorter have respectively written two excellent teaching books, namely, 'SuperTeaching' & 'Quantum Teaching'.]

Come to think of it, it is blatantly obvious that our school teachers as well as the MOE actually have a tremendous lot of expert resources readily available at their complete disposal to learn from & tap upon.

It is pertinent to point out that academic success techniques generally involve a myriad of potent stuff that has been proven to help motivate students to take personal accountability, study effectively, ace in exams, & excel in school & in life eventually.

'Effective study skills', which I often like to consider as 'hard skills', is just one of them or part of the larger equation of academic success.

In reality, they also includes other 'soft skills', like establishing a personal vision, developing self esteem & self confidence, breaking the fear barrier, changing belief systems & creating empowering beliefs, removing negative self-talk, enhancing inter-personal relationships (with family as a critical example), & building personal leadership.

From my years of professional experience as well as personal observation, the hallmark of a successful motivational camp lies in the progressive immersion of 'soft skills', on the part of the student participants, through a structured series of rope events, group dynamics & low element adventures, then interjected by the systematic instruction of 'hard skills'.

I have often noted that personal breakthroughs, on the part of the student participants in the camp, often come from the timely confluence of the two deliberate streams of skill sets, following sessional debriefing & reflective exercises (journalling).

Invariably, for a student participant in the camp, a personal breakthrough is always the sudden realisation that he or she has the power to choose his or her personal destiny.

[In the 'SuperTeen Holiday Camps' as well as their copycat, 'I am Gifted, So Are You' Camps, this resulting phenomenon is called the 'Born to Win' Mindset. In 'MindChamps' Camps, it's known as the 'Champion Mindset'. For me, I like to call it the 'Spermatozoa Analogy'.]

Nonetheless, once the student participant has realised that phenomenal power comes from within the self, it is much easier for the 'hard skills' to be embraced or rather to fall into place as part of his or her resource repertoire.

For tuition teachers, I reckon they may play a slightly different ball game with the student participants in their care, by probably concentrating on only the 'hard skills', with presumably a little dosage of the 'soft skills', depending on their competencies & resources.

In the next post, I would like to talk about some of the common problems of students in schools & also at home.

In the concluding post, I would then like to tie or consolidate all the strings of information together, so to speak, with the view of addressing the principal question from the beginning: Is home tuition the ultimate answer?

[to be continued in the Next Post]

Monday, June 23, 2008

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"The world ain't all sunshine & rainbows. It's a very mean & nasty place, & I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees & keep you there permanently if you let it.

You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit & keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!

Now if you know what you're worth, then go out & get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits."

(Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone in the 'Rocky' movie for the 21st century, thirty years after the Academy-award winning movie, 'Rocky' in 1976;)

GAMBLER'S LUCK

According to a report in today's issue of the Straits Times, Singaporeans spent estimated S$4.2 billion on gambling, which included horse racing & lotteries, based on taxes paid by government licenced betting operator, Singapore Pools, in their last financial year's results.

This amount apparently did not include online betting, which is illegal under Singapore laws.

Still, based on a recent survey by the Ministry of Community Development Youth & Sports, the participation rate for online gambling has risen ten-fold.

What intrigued me most is the following comments made by Suresh Ananda from the Institute of Mental Health's Community Addictions Management Program, with specific reference to online betting:

"People need to understand that though they may have the occasional win, over the long term, they will lose money. That is how all gambling games work."

Personally, I don't really gamble.

Once in a blue moon, especially when the jackpot is into the millions, I may dabble in Toto, just to try my luck with relatively small investments.

I remember vividly the first time when I went into a Toto booth, I had to ask the guy next to me on how to go about it. He was kind enough to show me.

I could not even get 3 numbers right in the very few instances.

I also remember, during the early years when I had just started to work professionally, one fortune teller told me, in no uncertain terms, that I just didn't have the fortune of being lucky in gambling, but said something to the effect that I could make money by just working hard.

To be frank, I took his sage advice very seriously.

However, one day I decided to be a rebel for a change.

Out of curiosity, I went to play the one-armed bandit while visiting the casino complex on Genting Highlands, Malaysia, for the first time during the late seventies with Catherine.

In a very short time, I lost all my tokens.

Up to today, for some strange reasons, I have never returned to Genting Highlands.

That's why, I reckon, over the last four decades, I don't think I have spent more than S$150/- on gambling.

On hindsight, that fortune teller was right. I don't have the gambler's luck.

IS HOME TUITION THE ULTIMATE ANSWER? II

[continue from my Last Post]

Singapore is rightly called the "Tuition Nation".

Reportedly, school students, fueled by their parents' anxiety, often resort to tuition of some kind or motivational camps because they just can't cope with the school lessons taught in their schools.

Even top students as well as students in the gifted stream also end up this way. Can you imagine that?

One angry parent has even branded tuition or enrichment classes as a non-negotiable reality.

There has been previous reports that many parents even help in their children's homework to cope with the heavy work load.

When crucial exam time comes, the students often have to burn heavy midnight oil, while their parents scramble into distress mode, with some of them even falling into paranoiac mode.

Apparently, I am told that sales of Brand's Essence of Chicken, ginkgo biloba, memory boosters, plus other herbal concoctions also often go up during such periods.

Recently, I am sad to read reports that parents are really upset that students are being recalled to schools during the current June school holidays for remedial lessons.

School holidays are meant to be great time for our students to have their fair share of relaxation, recreation as well as rejuvenation on their own.

No wonder, the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore has recently reported that more student patients are appearing on their register. Of course, there may be other reasons for this emerging development, but I reckon coping with school stress is definitely one of the major contributing factors.

My own analysis of the problem is this:

Many of our students don't know to study.

Today, a primary school student has to deal with 3 subjects in school - Mathematics, Science & Social Studies - besides Languages, at the minimum.

After the PSLE, he goes into the secondary school stream, where he has to deal with 7 subjects in school - Elementary Mathematics, Additional Mathematics, Geography, History, Biology, Chemistry, Physics - besides Languages, at the minimum.

As you can see, the number of subjects to be learned has more than doubled, & yet, I am not even talking about the comparative intensity & the intellectual complexity of each subject.

A case in point: In the 'Geography' subject alone, I once counted that a new student has to understand some 400 technical terms.

My questions: Is the student of today still studying in the same manner? A resounding 'Yes!'

Is his or her teacher teaching in the same manner? More or less, 'Yes!'

In reality, all the poor student knows about is memorising & regurgitating, not counting the massive classwork as well as homework he or she has to deal with during semester time.

Don't forget, school students of today are already inundated with so many external distractions, e.g. internet, hand-phones, gadgets & other modern technological conveniences.

Whenever I ask a student, at random in my training, what is 'studying'? He or she often has this bewildered look on his face, & in most instances, will utter 'it's learning'.

I would often ask again, what is 'learning'? The retort from the same student is invariably 'it's studying'.

If a student has a foggy or no idea about 'studying', how do you expect him to do well in 'studying', let alone in 'learning'.

It just crosses my mind:

Why can't all our secondary schools, especially during Secondary I, just make it a point to dedicate say one week i.e. the first week in school for all the successful Primary Six students, who apparently have made the seemingly quantum leap into the secondary school stream, to "learning how to study or learn".

If the school teachers don't know how to do it, their school principals should then send them out to attend enrichment classes conducted by the top-notch tuition teachers &/or trainers or success coaches from the motivational camps.

[to be continued in the Next Post]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

INSPIRATIONS FROM BRUCE LEE

"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves."

"Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."

"The fighter who enters battle and feels no fear is an arrogant fool."

“The possession of anything begins in the mind.”

“Simplicity is the key to brilliance.”

“Obey the principles without being bound by them.”

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

NOTES FROM MY SCRATCHPAD: LEARNING FROM THE MASTERS

"The great use of studying our predecessors is to open the mind, to shorten our labour, & to give us the result of the selection made by those great minds of what is grand or beautiful in nature."

(Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourse on the Arts, 1774)

It is quite correct to imply that learning from the masters is often related to the world of art & painting.

However, in this post, I am talking more about the drawing of valuable learning experiences from our predecessors operating in other diverse fields.

In this respect, the goal of learning from these masters or great minds is not to copy them - although it is a valid method of learning in itself - but to be able to achieve results as impressive as they did in their own spheres of activity.

As far as masters are concerned, I have jotted down the following in my scratchpad:

1) Moses: the ten commandments of learning design & delivery;

2) Socrates: guided discovery learning;

3) Plato: a continuous learning organisation;

4) Aristotle: systems thinking & psychology;

5) Dante: curriculum as memory theatre;

6) Comenius: learning-centred design;

7) Rousseau: learning through experience;

8) Herbart: a spiral model for continuous learning design;

9) Dewey: learning by doing;

10) Deming: total continuous learning;

I plan to share with readers my quick takeaways in terms of learning points from these masters in subsequent posts.

[Source: 'The 30-Second Encyclopedia of Learning & Performance: A Trainer’s Guide to Theory, Terminology, & Practice' by Dr David Miles.]

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Nothing is more important than reconnecting with your bliss. Nothing is as rich. Nothing is more real."

(Deepak Chopra)