Saturday, July 5, 2008

FIT, BUT NOT RUGGED

This seems to be the general consensus among a lot of people - writing in the Forum Page of the Straits Times, & also those interviewed, including old soldiers & medical experts, in a recent Straits Times report - talking about today's national servicemen, following the death of two of them while undergoing army training in the same week last month.

The blame seems to be levelled directly at our affluent, maid-dominated society as well as internet-driven conveniences.

I strongly believe that parents of today's national servicemen must take the blame for this 'fit, but not rugged' phenomenon.

Just stand at the front gate of any school - primary or secondary, it doesn't matter. Most of our future national servicemen are chauffeur-driven to school, & back to home, in air-conditioned comfort.

Newspaper journalist George Cherian's apt title of his classic book, 'Singapore: The Air-conditioned Nation' seems fitting, even though he has totally different thoughts.

Now, just go to any neighbourhood kindergarten at opening & closing times. When the parents & their kids walk to &/or return from these places, have you noticed who carries the school bags?

In fast food restaurants, when the kids mess up the tables or floors, who does the cleaning up? Most of the time, it's always the parents, unless they themselves are not house-disciplined.

When students get reprimanded or penalised in school for some reasons or other (e.g. hand phones get confiscated during class time, etc.), the first reaction from their parents is that they will take issue with the teachers or principals, instead of disciplining their own.

From my own buddies, I have noted that many of them even took the trouble to chauffeur-drive their sons back to army camps every time they return home for the weekends. Mind you, for 2 over years, without fail!

Once I read a report about a SAF warrant officer talking about today's national servicemen under his wing. He lamented that many of these new recruits did not even know how to make their beds, let alone hold a broom or a mop to clean the toilets.

A few years ago, a NTU lecturer shared a very interesting observation at the open forum in a Global Entrepreneurship Conference (where MM Lee Kuan Yew was the keynote speaker).

He highlighted that, on practically every Sunday morning, car loads of young maids would march into the hostels to do cleaning up of the rooms, on the instructions of the hostelers' parents.

Using that as a case in point, he wondered about the resilience of our future generation from the standpoint of entrepreneurship.

For a few years in 2002 to 2003, I was involved in residential motivational camps for secondary school students. I made a very interesting observation.

It was quite common to note that, some of the stay-in participants, after bathing & changing their clothes following outdoor rope events, they would just chuck their soiled clothing everywhere in the hotel room. When asked about it, they just added that at home the maids would readily take care of the dirty stuff.

Interestingly, the camp supervisors often had to remind the stay-in participants to return their empty plates & utensils after their lunches & dinners to the collection point, which was intended for the wash bay.

I have always thought that this is normal discipline at home. Of course, we can blame it - unfairly - on the maids again!

Once I learned that one of my neighbours had refused to let their son to participate in an off-site leadership camp. When asked for the reason, they said that they were worried that their son would hurt himself.

As you can see, our parents are unwittingly pampering our future national servicemen at a very early age.

Interestingly, a few months ago, there was some sort of big hoo-haa from parents about schools setting seemingly difficult questions in their preliminary exams as benchmarks for O Level students.

Where's the intellectual rigour & mental resilience of our students?

Where is the basic ruggedness of our future generation?

IF WE DON'T EMBRACE WHAT'S NEW, THEN HOW DO WE PROGRESS?

Actually, the foregoing post title is an apt quote [in today's Straits Times, 'Biteintoit'] attributed to Jay-Z, one of hip-hop's most popular artists.

In today's rapidly-changing, fast-paced landscape, irrespective of whether it's for business, work or play, staying in the status quo is "busy dying", to use a phrase from my good friend, Dilip Mukerjea.

Judith Bardwith puts it best: There is 'Danger in the Comfort Zone'.

Incidentally, that's the title of one of her great books about the "earning mentality" vs. the "entitlement mentality" in the corporate world.

We need to get out of our comfort zone from time to time. Cross over to the stretch zone, [maybe even into the panic zone, once in a blue moon, to test our nerves!] so to speak.

We need to constantly confront ourselves: What's New?

One of my early mentors, Patricia Danielson, who taught me 'PhotoReading' during the early nineties, often likes to pose this question on Monday mornings: What's Good & New?

Frankly, embracing what's good & new is very simple & easy. [Patricia's focus is to use our viewpoints of "goodness" in our lives as springboards to move forward. With that, I reckon it's probably easier & quicker to focus on "newness".]

Find new ways to think & do things is one way. I am always doing that, because they keep me intellectually alive.

Changing our daily habitual routines is another way.

Recently, my wife & I decided to cut out the consumption of rice (carbo) completely as a trial, & chose to eat deep-sea fish & fresh vegetables in various forms, boiled or steamed or salad styles, etc.

See the world around us with fresh eye perspectives.

Consciously ask: what do I choose to see? where do I direct my attention?

Make new friends. Chit chat with strangers on the streets or in the neighbourhood markets or in the gym. Get their perspectives. What tickles them? What excites them?

Read extensively. Mainstream as well as fringe stuff. We can't visit all the new &/or strange places, things & people, but we certainly can read all about them.

Joel Arthur Barker, futurist, thinker & author of 'Future Edge', once said to this effect: "The quickest way to change your paradigms is to read, read & read."

In fact, I am constantly on the lookout for better & faster ways to read or rather process information about the world.

Go & watch the new movies or TV channel movies with a critical eye for learning points. That's what I always do.

Explore the net with an open mind. I do that very often. Let serendipity takes over. I am always astounded with what I found.

In fact, I am just starting to dabble with social networking tools.

There is no right way or wrong way. As long as you are getting yourself out of the rut, that's one good way.

For example, I am now reading up about digital photography. I want to explore how I can maximise the use of my Canon IXUS digital camera.

Even my wife is exploring new ways to make artificial flowers, beyond luna clay. She is now experimenting with dried fish scales.

Embracing what's new adds novelty to our life experiences. It's good for our brains, too.

Like me, be a life-long learner. Set up a learning journal. Mine is a scratchpad - it's for everything.

Ask questions: what happened? why? what's the lesson? how can I apply this to my business? my life? how could I do this differently next time?

Interestingly, the question mark, when flipped over, looks like a fish hook.

Hence, asking questions or questioning oneself allows us to fish for information - more precisely, to probe our minds.

R Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, once called it "cosmic fishing" [although he meant "intuitive flashes".]

In terms of blogging, I am also exploring new angles to tackle subject matters & to write my posts.

From my perspective, embracing what's new is a continual, never ending process, especially if we want to stay sane in a maddening world of change.

I leave here a quote from my good friend Dilip Mukerjea once again as food for thought:

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Thanks, Jay-Z, for the inspiration.

MEMORABLE QUOTE FROM THE MOVIE

"Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be the best of himself.

It's the choices that make us who we are, & we can always choose to do what's right."

(Peter Parker, played by Tobey MacQuire, in the closing segment of the sci-fi fantasy movie, 'Spiderman 3', in which he had to fight against 3 super-villains, 'Green Goblin' [his estranged pal, Harry], 'Sandman' & 'Venom'; the movie summed up best with its tagline: "Every hero has a choice, to face the darkness . . . or be consumed by it.";

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"They say things like 'Your days are numbered, you are going to die'. I tell my wife: 'All our days are numbered, what'."

(Singapore's well-known criminal lawyer Subhas Anandan, 60, on the threatening calls & letters he has received for defending murderers. He strongly believes that every one deserves his day in court as he himself was once put behind bars without trial.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

HOW TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN'T READ

'How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read' is actually the intriguing title of a best-seller book by Prof Pierre Bayard of University of Paris. It has been translated from French by Prof Jeffrey Mehlman of Boston University.

I have found it while surfing the net today.

Reading through the two dozens of disparate reviews on the Amazon.com, I thought I should acquire & read the book. I have already put it my shopping cart, awaiting final consolidation with my other books.

Apparently, the book is intended to address the following central question:

If civilized people are expected to have read all important works of literature, & thousands more books are published every year, what are we supposed to do in those awkward social situations in which we’re forced to talk about books we haven’t read?

as well as the following ancillary questions:

- What are our true motives for reading?

- Is there an objective way to read a book?

- What do we retain from the books we've read?


The book certainly piques my interest & curiosity, since there are some books in my personal library which I have yet to crack open, or have merely skimmed over, or have read many years ago but have long since forgotten about.

Till then, please stay tuned for my book review.

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

"The information age requires that our children interpret what they read to create real knowledge & understanding, which expands their options & choices or they will become a generation of followers instead of independent thinkers . . . No child should ever be asked to read a sentence that doesn't lead to a discussion & speculation about its personal meaning."

Peter Kline, an innovative expert & leading researcher in reading & accelerated learning skills, & author of 'Why America's Children Can't Think: Creating Independent Minds for the 21st Century';

What Peter Kline is talking about is the critical importance of active reading i.e. reading purposefully, meaningfully & productively.

In more precise terms, it's thinking & reflecting on what we are reading. He also stresses the role of interest & curiosity in the reading process as well as in our daily lives.

From my own experience, I often noted that interest & curiosity further fuel the reading pursuit.

This is an area I have written a lot in my earlier posts about reading.

[Peter Kline is also the author of 'The Everyday Genius: Restoring Children's Natural Joy of Learning & Yours Too!', 'School Success: The Inside Story', & 'Ten Steps to a Learning Organisation'. All great stuff! When I was running 'The Brain Resource', the first book was one of my anchor books in the store repertoire for more than a decade.]

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."

(Dorothy Parker, 1893 – 1967, an American writer, poet, critic & screenwriter, best known for her caustic wit, wisecracks, & sharp eye for 20th century urban foibles;).

Thursday, July 3, 2008

THE BATH TUB, THE BED & THE BUS

According to an interesting article, 'The Hidden Secrets of the Creative Mind' in the Time online magazine (in partnership with CNN), there are three B's — for the bathtub, the bed & the bus — in creativity research.

What do they have in common? In reality, they are the three places where ideas have famously & suddenly emerged. The Aha moment, so to speak.

When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we're doing & our context, & that can activate different areas of our brain.

If the answer wasn't in the part of the brain we were using, it might be in another.

If we're lucky, in the next context we may hear or see something that relates — distantly — to the problem that we had temporarily put aside.

Here's a great example, according to the article:

"In 1990 a team of NASA scientists was trying to fix the distorted lenses in the Hubble telescope, which was already in orbit.

An expert in optics suggested that tiny inversely distorted mirrors could correct the images, but nobody could figure out how to fit them into the hard-to-reach space inside.

Then engineer Jim Crocker, taking a shower in a German hotel, noticed the European-style shower head mounted on adjustable rods.

He realized the Hubble's little mirrors could be extended into the telescope by mounting them on similar folding arms. And this flash was the key to fixing the problem."

[To read the original article in its entirety, please go to this link.]

WALKING BOOK CLUB

Once again, my younger brother, a science & techno geek has recently given me a good lead, which led me to Dr Arthur Kramer.

Dr Kramer is a Professor in the University of Illinois Department of Psychology, the Campus Neuroscience Program, the Beckman Institute, & the Director of the Biomedical Imaging Center at the University of Illinois.

To improve our overall brain health, he has suggested:

- First, be active; do physical exercise;

- Second, maintain a lifelong intellectual engagement program, with mentally stimulating activities;

What intrigues me most is his third suggestion:

- Thirdly & ideally, combine both physical & mental stimulation along with social interactions. He asks: why not take a good walk with friends to discuss a book?

That's very interesting! [Readers can visit this link to learn more about his suggestions.]

I often do that with my gym buddy, but most of the time we were sitting down in the neighbourhood cafe. We will definitely explore that.

More interestingly, Dr. Yaakov Stern, Division Leader of the Cognitive Neuroscience at the Sergievsky Center, & Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Columbia University, New York advises that stimulating activities, ideally combining physical exercise, learning & social interaction, help us to build the "Cognitive Reserve" of neurons, synapses & skills to protect our brain.

You can read more about it at this link.

HOW TO THINK: MANAGING BRAIN RESOURCES IN AN AGE OF COMPLEXITY

My younger brother, a science & techno geek, has recently passed me this link to the above interesting article by Ed Boyden.

He is an assistant professor in the MIT Media Lab. His lab broadly invents new tools to engineer brain circuits, in order to treat intractable disorders, augment cognition, & better understand the nature of existence.

The article has first appeared on his blog in the Technology Review, published by MIT.

NAVIGATING THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE MIND III

[continue from my Last Post]

Actually, I am supposed to write the continuing post to my two earlier posts on 'Navigating the Complexities of the Mind'.

My objective is to tie up & consolidate what I have written so far about the 'conscious', 'subconscious' & 'unconscious' minds.

More specifically, to share with you some workable ideas about how to consciously influence the "subconscious" mind

If we want to become more effective in terms of optimum performance, it's important we understand the relationship between the three minds: "conscious", "subconscious", & "unconscious".

The way I see it, the "subconscious" mind acts as a superhighway between the conscious & the unconscious level of the mind.

This superhighway allows communication to flow in both directions.

Now, if we want to utilize the relationships of our three minds for the purpose of optimum performance, we need to understand the different ways in which the subconscious mind can be influenced to assist us.

In the course of preparing this post, I happen to stumble on to an interesting resource, 'Mindtune: Evolution of the Mind', the contents of which somehow resonates with what I have planned to write.

What impresses me most about their stuff is the action-mindedness of their approach.

So, instead of reinventing the wheel, so to speak, I reckon I will just pass on the link to readers to explore & enjoy their '5 Steps of Mindtune' approach.

In a nut shell, here are the key ideas or steps of their action-minded approach, which we can readily apply to influencing the power of our subconscious mind:

1) Consciously influence your mind with Auto-suggestion;

2) Design your own Personal Mission Statement - this will serve as your driving force;

3) Stimulate your mind daily - with affirmations, positive thought replay, making sure of getting anything you want, humour & laughter;

4) Act for Success - with powerful steps toward permanent change;

5) Read widely - to expand your understanding & knowledge of positive living;

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

According to world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in decades of her research on achievement & success:

Performance goals are about 'winning' & positive judgements of our competence & avoiding the negative ones.

That is to say, we want to look smart (to ourselves or others) & want to avoid looking dumb.

More precisely, we want to play safe.

She adds that a failure in performance is more likely to provoke a helpless response.

Learning goals are about increasing our capability & competence. They reflect our desire to learn new skills; master new tasks or understand new things.

More precisely, we have the desire to get smarter.

She adds that a failure in learning is more likely to provoke a continued effort.

Are we learning or looking good - & probably going nowhere?

[Carol Dweck is the author of 'Mindset: The New Psychology of Success' as well as the 'Handbook of Competence & Motivation';]

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"The basic difference between an ordinary person & a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary person takes everything as a blessing or a curse."

(Carlos Castaneda, 1925-1998, a Peruvian-born American author, with a series of controversial books to his credit, mostly drawing on his own view of experiences that encompass the total teachings of the shamans of ancient Mexico; author of 'The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge';)

THE ART OF FRUGAL LIVING

I am sad to read from recent newspaper reports that our young urban professionals are incurring substantially heavy debts at the early stage of their prime years.

Some even resorted to borrowing from their parents to settle their mounting debts. One had even borrowed money to continue their recalcitrant habits of "instant gratification".

I reckon this is the resultant effect of our affluent society, where people get the illusion that rolling good times are here to stay forever, amidst rampant enticements from banks with easy credit, as well as lucrative offers from major retail stores.

In Singapore, I learn that, if one holds an OCBC Bank credit card, one can go & purchase a big ticket item from almost any retail store, & then repay over 48 months with zero interest. This facility also applies to overseas holiday travels.

I once read a report a few years ago that a young couple, at the beginning of their professional careers, had spent more than S$10,000 for their first-time holidays in the United States, using a "fly-now, pay-later" facility. Upon their return, they had ended up with considerable debts because of the roll-over interests. However, they insisted that the holidays were worthwhile.

The other contributing factor to incurring debts is the herd instinct or rather follow the Jones.

I believe this one can be quite deadly, as it often creates a vicious cycle of more spending to keep up the image.

In today's unpredictable era, & now aggravated by rising living costs, I reckon it's very important to maintain a frugal lifestyle.

From my personal experience, the first thing to do is to go back to your personal core values - the things that matter to you the most.

For me, the most important thing is my personal freedom to choose what I love to do, e.g. spending quality time & fulfilling activity with my wife, keeping myself intellectually & physically busy, among other daily activities.

The next important thing is understanding the difference between "need" & "want".

All of us want a lot of stuff, but do we really need them? Ask yourself: Do I really need it?

Robert Kiyosaki apparently has a fascinating way to address this dilemma, by asking: is it a "value-adding investment" or an "asset-depleting liability"?

To me, that's the key to spending wisely. That's also a good way to avoid unnecessary debts.

Frankly, it's not easy to follow, but with a little bit of self-discipline, it's achievable.

Thirdly, don't try to compare yourself with others. In other words, don't follow the Jones, so to speak.

Be happy with what you have. Make do with what you have.

Recently, I found that I have some "old" branded sports clothes in my wardrobe [I have this habit of hoarding all my personal stuff - I have stuff, especially jackets & vests, that goes back to 10-15 years, but still in mint condition, because of the way I had stored them in the first place], which I have not worn for quite a while. So I took them out to wear them.

A few days ago, I even took the trouble to give away about a dozen of them each to my fourth eldest brother & my second brother-in-law, to their great delight. They have been my past recepients, as physically we are about the same size.

Fourthly, if you need to go window shopping, scout for sales offers.

My wife & I often do that at IMM Jurong East & Jurong Point. Many of our home appliances & sports clothes/shoes were bought from sales offers. Of course, we had bought what we had needed.

Many years ago, Cold Storage at Jelita happened to me our regular joint for our fortnightly grocery shopping. Then, attracted by lower costs, we switched over to Giant at IMM Jurong East.

In recent months, we have found that our neighbourhood markets offer better deals for the same items.

Fifthly, if you are still working, learn to save some money for rainy days. I always believe that not every day is a sunny day.

Just a small 10% of your monthly salary every month is already a very good habit, especially with the power of compound interests.

Next, recycle or reuse old stuff.

For example, my wife always retain all those shopping bags from the retail stores or markets or supermarkets to use in conjunction with our trash can at home.

The better looking ones are used in conjunction with delivery of presents to friends or relatives.

My gym buddy has taught me to keep a reusable shopping bag in the car. In fact, he was the one who gave me one for free.

As a matter of fact, I have also converted a lot of my old long pants into short pants, so that I can wear them while hanging out in the neighbourhood.

Over the years, I have shipped a lot of my old pants & shirts to Ho Chi Minh city for distribution to my wife's siblings.

Recently, one of my buddies, during the course of his home relocation from Holland Road to Upper Serangoon, gave me more than a dozen of electrical appliances, most of which were relatively old but unused. I kept a few, but shipped all the rest to Ho Chi Minh city.

Next, use public transport wherever possible.

Even though I own a 8-year old car, my wife & I often take the bus & MRT to Jurong Point on our shopping weekends.

I drive my car only when I go to IMM Jurong East on grocery shopping; to Sheng Siong at Jurong Bowl for our fresh seafoods; meeting my buddies from the Wednesday Club at Kent Ridge or Suntec City; & for other long distance trips e.g. to meet my business clients in some off-beat areas; to the airport to pick up visitors; & more importantly, to Mandai to visit Catherine's niche every month, etc.

Last but not least, eat at home more often. It's healthier - as we know exactly what goes inside - & cheaper in the long run.

Fortunately, my wife is an excellent cook, & I have learned to enjoy Vietnamese cuisine - stir-fry or steam, with very little oil & fat, fish sauce only, plenty of lime, fresh herbs, fresh vegetables & fresh seafoods - over the last four years.

Since the early nineties, I have embraced a relatively frugal lifestyle.

On reflection, my preference has been partly attributed to my first own adventure into the entrepreneurial world during that period.

The other attribution is probably accounted by a terrible learning experience (Robert Kiyosaki likes to call it a 'Mack Truck') during the mid-seventies.

As a young sales engineer, I had just upgraded my car from a 1300 cc (Morris) to a 2000 cc (Peugeot) car, with a hire purchase interest rate of 14%% p.a.. That's was during the oil crisis & that particular experience really taught me a vital lesson.

I reckon the most pivotal books I have read & followed in terms of sustaining a frugal lifestyle are:

- 'Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich', by Duane Elgin;

- 'Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money & Achieving Financial Independence', by Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin;

It is pertinent to point out that a frugal lifestyle doesn't mean an impoverished lifestyle.

It simply means living in balance.

Duane Elgin puts it best in Chapter I of his book: "At the heart of the simple life is an emphasis on harmonious & purposeful living."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

RAPID RECAP: MAKING CONNECTIONS

"Making mental connections is our most critical learning tool, the essence of human intelligence: to forge links; to go beyond the given; to see patterns, relationships & context."

(Marilyn Ferguson, author of 'Aquarius Now', 'Pragmagic', 'The Aquarian Conspiracy' & 'The Brain Revolution'; also founder & publisher of the now defunct 'Brain/Mind Bulletin';)

IS HOME TUITION THE ULTIMATE ANSWER? V

[continue from the Last Post]

Now, let me take readers down to the micro-level to look at the common problems of today's students in the school classroom.

To me, their greatest problem is not paying adequate attention in class, especially when the teacher is introducing & explaining a new lesson or elaborating on a new concept.

Of course, they would always say that the teacher is boring, as a quick excuse for not paying attention.

Also, most students often go to class unprepared. More importantly, they don't do their assigned reading when asked by their teacher.

That's why in class, they can't follow the new lesson because their brains can't "click" readily with what the teacher is talking about in class.

Learning takes place when a student's brain can "click" i.e. mentally connect what the teacher is talking about in class, with what he or she already knows something about in the mind.

I call it "prior knowledge". Psychologists call it "schema".

Often, when the student readily complies with the teacher's assigned reading, he can easily build up the requisite "prior knowledge" or "schema" when he goes to class.

Even when the student does not fully understand the new stuff from reading the night before, he still can make some sense in class when the teacher talks about it.

With the "prior knowledge" or "schema" in mind, the student will find it easier for him to follow the teacher.

Also, the student can make use of the class lecture to fill up any "gaps of understanding" from his earlier reading.

Looking at this process critically, "prior knowledge" actually acts like a lens through which the student views & absorbs new information.

Experience tells me that students learn more effectively when they already know something about a content area they are learning about.

Information architect Richard Saul Wurman puts it best:

"You only learn things relative to something you understand."

(This is sometimes known as Richard Saul Wurman's Law)

However, this is just one small part of the equation.

The other aspect is truly understanding what the teacher is talking about in class.

Learning experts like to call it "active understanding".

Whenever I ask a student "what do you mean by 'understanding a concept'?", I always get the bewildered look on the face of the student.

Please read this earlier post of mine in the 'The Study Smart Smorgasbord' weblog regarding this vital aspect in learning.

I call it the "acid test for understanding".

My assessment is this: In the first place, when the poor students don't truly understand what they are learning in class, they often encounter unexpected problems while doing the assigned homework &/or catching up with subsequent lessons in class.

This is because most school subjects are generally cumulative in nature. In other words, students must understand the basic foundational concepts before moving to the next level.

Worst still, when exam time comes, & coupled with the built-up anxiety & time constraints, reading the same stuff in their text books over & over again become a mad scramble.

This is where the smart students often excel:

- they do their assigned reading;
- they pay attention in class;
- they ask pertinent questions in class;
- they understand fully what they are learning in class;
- they do their assigned homework; &
- best of all, they then ace the exams, even when they don't even appear to be studying for exams;

I am sure you have come across such smart students in your student life.

I believe tuition teachers have found a practical solution to this student problem.

From my personal observations, they always make painstaking efforts to ensure that students under their care truly understand what they are going through the tuition process.

Then, they share memory recall techniques with the student & follow up with a lot of "practice makes perfect" exercises with the students.

Doing assessment papers &/or past exam papers is part of this learning game.

In the same vein, motivational camps like 'MindChamps' have also found the "key to learning effectively". They call it aptly the Vital 4 'A's of Active Learning, comprising:

- active understanding;
- active storage;
- active recall;
- application;


In a nut shell, the 4 'A's help the student to:

- process & manipulate the information learned;
- translate it into working knowledge;
- retain it, store it, & recall it with the aid of memory techniques;
- synthesise it in the form of an approach or a method; &
- then finally apply or express it, possibly in various forms, & to a range of new situations or challenges;

Next, besides the issue of active understanding, I want to point out the important role of lesson review & revision.

I have written an earlier post on this critical aspect in 'The Study Smart Smorgasbord'.

I call it 'The Art & Discipline of Revision Strategy'.

To put them in perspective, all these active strategies as described earlier & above have to be dovetailed with priority management, mind-mapping &/or other superior forms of visual note making, analytical & creative writing as well as vocabulary building, as an integral part of the student's complete repertoire of skills for academic success, including techniques for understanding exam questions & acing the exams.

Last, but not least, there is still one more important aspect to be considered: interest & curiosity.
Without interest & curiosity on the part of the student, learning often becomes a burdensome & difficult task.

That's why the trainers or success coaches in motivational camps & the better tuition teachers always make learning really fun & exciting for their student participants.

Best of all, they also know how & when to pump in a lot of novel experiences during the camp, which helps to generate more interest & curiosity, which in turn fuels creativity & imagination!

My question: why can't our schools do that? It's actually no big deal!

Again, information architect Richard Saul Wurman sums up best:

"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."

What I have described so far in all my preceding posts is the urgent need & pragmatic adoption of a wholistic approach to learning or studying for our students, which the trainers or success coaches of motivational camps & the better tuition teachers are already embracing.

In other words, the 'hard skills' must go together with the 'soft skills' to make academic success work for our students.

I can appreciate the trials & tribulations of today's hard-pressed school teacher, when he or she has to handle 30 to 40 students in a class.

With a seemingly agonising curriculum overload & tight class schedule, how do you expect him or her to have fun herself in teaching in the first place?

I believe MOE as well as the schools may need to do some paradigm shifting & structural tweaking here & there.

I am confident that, what the trainers or success coaches in motivational camps or the better tuition teachers can do to create peak performing students, the schools can do as well or maybe even better.

Till then, I reckon the answer is an affirmative YES to the original question.

In reality, the way I see it & at this point in time, it's a value-added proposition for parents & guardians, considering the prevailing entrenched structure of our Singapore's education system, with an obsessive penchant for meritocracy.

A CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF GOAL DIRECTEDNESS

I have often used the following "audio recording", which captured President John F Kennedy's memorable ending speech when he addressed the Special Joint Session of the United States Congress on May 25th 1961:

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon & returning him safely to the earth. No single space program in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long range exploration of space; & none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."

to demonstrate the power of goal-orientedness to entrepreneurs, professionals, managers as well as students in my workshops.

On July 20th 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to land & then walk on the moon.

What an inspiring speech that epitomised goal-directedness!

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"You don't learn very much when you yourself are talking."

(Guy Kawasaki, author of the 'How to Change the World' weblog;)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

TODAY IS THE 1ST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE

Over the last weekend, my wife & I had attended two birthday celebrations.

The first one was the 60th birthday celebration for Alice, one of my buddies in the 'Wednesday Club'. She is the second-half of Bosco-Chen Bloodworth, a forensics scientist & adjunct professor.

The venue was the posh restaurant, Hai Tien Lo, on the 37th floor of the Pan Pacific Hotel at the edge of the city. The food was great.

However, the ambiance was even greater, as Alice celebrated the occasion with her close family members - two sons; the eldest one - married & expecting his first child in September - acted as the goofy MC for the evening - & close friends, mostly members of the 'Wednesday Club' as well as members of her Cantonese opera singing group, where she often hangs out in the evenings.

Incidentally, Alice, a highly spirited lady, still dabbles in real estate by day.

Naturally, besides the usual traditional routines associated with most birthdays, Alice obliged the party goers with a beautiful Cantonese song, while her singing group also pelt out another classic Cantonese song for the evening.

Her beloved hubby, Bosco - always with the jovial streak - gave a nice speech for the evening.

What he had said touched us dearly, as he revealed that he & his wife really appreciated the sharing of the occasion with his close family & friends.

To top up the event, the wonderful fireworks from the nearby NDP rehearsal on the bay - a panoramic view from the 37th floor - gave a truly befitting accompaniment.

The second one was the 80th birthday celebration for my second eldest brother-in-law, Mr Khoo, a retired banking officer.

The venue was his home on the 13th floor of a point block in the Kembangan area, where he shared with my second eldest sister, a retired specialist teacher. My sister is already in the late seventies. Both of them are in relatively good health.

The celebration was confined to members of both families. Their two sons, both professionals working in China, had returned to Singapore for the occasion. On their own, they have two sons & one daughter, all of them are in their teens.

The birthday party ended with a friendly but often rowdy beer drinking contest.

Since my wife & I are non-drinkers, we decided to leave early.

Looking back at the two birthday events, I feel very proud for the 60th birthday girl as well as the 80th birthday boy.

As the adage goes or rather some wise guys once said to this effect, "Today is the 1st day of the rest of your life", I know from the bottom of my heart that the two celebrators are gradually moving forward with renewed confidence in their own chosen ways.

Once again, Best Wishes to both of them!

[Photo Legend: 1st pic, panoramic view from the restaurant on the 37th flloor; 2nd pic, Alice & Bosco about to cut the birthday cake; 3rd pic, Alice with her two sons & eldest daughter-in-law; 4th pic, Mr Khoo, his wife &/or my 2nd eldest sister (in pink), with their eldest daughter-in-law; last pic, Mr Khoo & one of his younger brothers (sitting), with youngest son &/or my nephew on the right;]

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

What happens when everything in the world becomes available to everyone?

inspired by 'The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More', by Chris Anderson;

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Ignorance & knowledge grow at the same rate because the more you know, the more you know you don't know."

(Sue Hammond & Andrea Mayfield, authors of 'The Thin Book of Naming Elephants: How to Surface Undiscussables for Greater Organisational Success';)

Monday, June 30, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: 'THE 7 BIGGEST TEEN PROBLEMS & HOW TO TURN THEM INTO STRENGTHS', by Bobbi dePorter

If you are a parent, with school going kids &/or teens, please read the above book.

As I have introduced in my earlier posts, Bobbi dePorter, is the founder & president of Quantum Learning Network (QLN), based in the United States, which runs the 'SuperCamp' programs.

QLN is a 25-year World Leader in Youth Achievement. It has helped more than 45,000 students in 50 states & 80 countries (including Singapore) to achieve personal & academic success.

The book has been written for all parents who are searching for better ways to help their kids &/or teens through the challenges typically faced by young people.

Whether your kids &/or teens are straight A students or struggling, & the changes you seek are great or small, this book will help you with teen problems such as troubled relationships, emotional hurt, negative self-image, disruptive change, weak academic performance, lack of focus, & low motivation to reach their potential.

In a nut shell, I have found her brilliant analyses & expert assessments more or less resonate with my own random surveys of the common problems faced by Singapore students, as well as their parents' expectations, with regard to areas for improvement in their kids/teens.

Written with an almost conversational style, the author invites concerned parents to get an inside look at what your kids &/or teens may be facing along with pragmatic solutions - how to turn the problems into strengths!

To help you save money, I like to share a lead with you. You can go to this link to download the 120-page ebook.

You can also go to this link to download the 18-page handbook of strategies.

[Incidentally, Bobbi dePorter was one of the twenty principal instructors during my 16-day boot camp for entrepreneurs, managers & professionals during the early nineties. I have written about my awesome learning experiences in two earlier posts. Over the years, I have acquired & digested all her books, 18 of them, plus audios & videos.]

THE WORLD'S MOST INEXPENSIVE CAR

At about US$2,500 retail, the Nano is the most inexpensive car in the world. It's an innovation from Tata Motors of India.

Interestingly, John Hagel & John Seely Brown, co-chairman & independent co-chairman, respectively, of the Center for Edge Innovation, a part of Deloitte & Touche, shares their expert assessement of the broader lessons that we should learn from this innovation story from India.

You can go to this link to read about it.

FINALLY A CAR THAT RUNS ON WATER!

Please go to this link to read more about the water car.

THE POWER OF VISUAL LEARNING

Here's a link to a great website, where you can find two very interesting learning tools on the power of visual learning:

- 'A Periodic Table of Visualisation Methods';

- 'E-learning Tutorials on Visualisation for Communication, Engineering & Business';

Enjoy your exploration!

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

“Trouble starts when I fail to notice that I see only whatever confirms my categories & expectations but
nothing else. The trouble deepens even further if I kid myself that seeing is believing. That’s wrong. It’s the other way around. You see what you expect to see. You see what you have the labels to see. You see what you have the skills to manage.”

(Karl Weick & Kathleen Sutcliffe, authors of 'Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty', an essential book for managers who want to anticipate & adapt to surprises;)

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

What do ideas look like?

inspired by Marshall Clemens, creator of the iDiagram: The Art of Insight & Action, particularly his 'Visual Modeling for Complex Business Problems';

Sunday, June 29, 2008

VISUAL MODELING FOR COMPLEX BUSINESS PROBLEMS

If you have enjoyed my review of the book, 'The Back of the Napkin', by Dan Roam, please drop into the iDiagram: The Art of Insight & Action website to have a quick look.

You will be astounded by the extent of innovation in the field of 'idea or knowledge visualisation'.

The complete iDiagram stuff is owned by Marshall Clemens.

I really like his 'Visual Modeling for Complex Business Problems'.

OPPORTUNITIES AT THE EDGE

Here's an interesting viewpoint about the edge:

"There is no honest way to explain it, because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."

This is attributed to Hunter S Thompson, 1937-2005, a colourful chronicler of American life, more from the standpoint of counter-culture.

He was often acknowledged as the dean of "gonzo journalism" - a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they become the central figures of their stories.

I have another viewpoint regarding the edge, based on what I have learned over the years from many business thought leaders.

The first business author who woke me up, so to speak, regarding the edge was Joel Arthur Barker, who wrote the classic, 'Future Edge', followed by his one time collaborator, Wayne Burkan, who wrote the classic, 'Wide-Angle Vision: Beat Your Competition by Focusing on Fringe Competitors, Lost Customers, & Rogue Employees'.

I always like the first author's exposition of paradigm shifters, paradigm pioneers & paradigm settlers, & of course, his final assertion regarding the urgency & significance of paradigm pliancy in today's rapid-changing, fast-paced world.

As for the second author, I really like the way he challenges the reader to confront the perils of tunnel vision & the advantage of a broader perspective to the edges of what's happening in the mainstream of our customers, employees, & affiliates.

From the standpoint of opportunity finding, I have learned that the edge takes many forms:

- the edge of the enterprise - inside the firm e.g. disgruntled or rogue employees, etc., & others on the outside, e.g. fringe competitors, lost customers, etc.;

- the edge of matured markets or industries - the story about how Apple started in a garage is always a classic story; just think of Apple’s iPod, which emerged on the edge of a number of industries, including consumer electronics, music, & the Internet;

- the geographical edge of emerging economies e.g. China, India, Brazil, Vietnam;

- the edge of &/or between generations - social networking tool is one; also, in Singapore, we even have a very high-powered civil servant & former Chairman of the Economic Development Board, Philip Yeo, to spearhead the silver-haired opportunity movement;

- the edge of specific domains of knowledge or intellectual disciplines - computers & cartoons or rather comics, as one good example;

The understanding of the edge opportunities eventually led me to start my own entrepreneurial ventures, especially my small retail store, during the early nineties.

In those days, the big boys - MPH, Times & Kinokuniya - were interested only in mainstream books. Very limited fringe stuff. [Borders has yet to come. Kinokuniya has yet to set up their anchor store at Ngee Ann City.] Also, they were only interested in books per se, plus some music compacts & stationery supplies.

Since I loved to read fringe stuff, I established 'The Brain Resource' with a pretty wide store repertoire. Please read my earlier post.

John Hagel , the author of 'The Only Sustainable Edge' (with John Seely Brown) [I have yet to read this book, as I am still waiting for it to come from amazon.com], has written an excellent piece on the many edge perspectives in his wonderful blog.

What I like about is that the authors have redefined what “edge” means:

"The point is that edges represent the intersection of established ways of doing things with new needs & new possibilities. It is this intersection that creates a fertile ground for innovation & capability building. Employees are forced out of their comfort zones & pushed to question & refine traditional practices."

Here's the link.

RAPID RECAP: THE FEAR OF CHANGE

According to Marilyn Ferguson, a thought leader in her own right, author of 'The Aquarian Conspiracy', & publisher/editor of the now-defunct 'Brain/Mind Bulletin':

Our fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if we explore them!

So, fear is a Question:

What are we afraid of, & why?

Just as the seed of health is illness, because illness contains information . . .

She adds further:

“It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear . . . It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus [good friend of Charlie Brown & his dog, Snoopy - my favourite cartoons!] when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to.”

Her parting shot:

"Change is a do-it-yourself proposition . . .

No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal."

I did not truly understand her assertions or rather her pragmatic insights until I was in my mid-forties, after having spent twenty fours in the corporate world, working in quiet desperation as a corporate rat.

Having conquered my own fears of pursuing my fondest dreams & then crossed that edge, so to speak, I have found my own personal freedom to do what I love & love what I do.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, & that is your own self."

(Aldous Huxley, 1894–1963, an English novelist, who was well known for advocating & taking hallucinogens;)

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

How does one develop the ability to read business trends?

Points to Note:

- predicting the future is more ART than SCIENCE;

- believe the future is just a collection of possibilities, directions, events, twists & turns, advantages & surprises;

-in a picture puzzle, putting together the pieces that add meaning to the puzzle is the SCIENCE; the ART lies in knowing which pieces don't fit that particular puzzle;

[Source: John Naisbitt, author of 'Megatrends';]