Saturday, October 4, 2008

THERE ARE NO STUPID QUESTIONS (TANSQ)

An interesting quote from a recent list of fun stuff, which my younger brother, a techno-science geek, often collates & sends to me, sparks off my quick search, just for the fun of it:

"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots."

Just look at what I have found, a very quick sampling, from the net:

Gary Cohen, an executive coach writing in his article, 'Are there really no stupid questions?', concludes that asking stupid questions e.g. "This may be a stupid question, but . . .," gets people to open up, whereas pointed questions can put people on the defensive (at least initially).

His ending advice:

"Don't let shame or embarrassment prevent you from admitting what you don't know.

Consider it an opportunity to revisit protocols or decisions.

What stupid questions have you been holding back?"

Here are some more stuff, from James Koopmann:

"One who has all the answers is less than a fool. A fool at least asks a question."

"Even a fool, when he holds his tongue & remains silent, is often considered a wise man".

Here's one from Scott Adams:

"If there are no stupid questions, then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?"

Here's a link to relatively interesting article, where the author urges us " to consider the process of thinking before asking these sort of questions".

To sum up quickly, I reckon it's not just an issue of stupid or smart questions, after all they are just labels; it's the soul-searching question or series of provoking questions that we have not yet asked or are often afraid to ask.

I believe very strongly that with the practice of asking questions, we get to ask better questions the next time. Better questions generally lead to better answers.

Internationally acclaimed success coach Anthony Robbins said it best:

"Successful people ask better questions, & as a result, they get better answers."

"Quality questions create a quality life."

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"As long as there have been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe. We make our world significant by the courage of our questions & by the depth of our answers."

~ Carl Sagan, 1934-1996, American author & astronomer; also co-founder & first President of The Planetary Society & a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; a Pulitzer Prize winner, Dr. Sagan was the author of many bestsellers, including 'Cosmos', which became the best-selling science book ever published in the English language;

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

I am intrigued by the following question (even though I find them comforting to know) which came from Dr Gene Cohen, the director of the Center for Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University:

"Is your forgetfulness fundamentally interfering with how you function?”

“If it doesn’t fundamentally mess up your work or social life, it’s among the normal variants.”

[Source: New York Times]

DEFINITIONS OF INTELLIGENCE

Here's a link to a seemingly well-referenced collection of 70 odd definitions of intelligence.

Friday, October 3, 2008

SQUEEZE THE DAY!

As I was sitting on board the MRT train with my wife on our way to Lakeside from Bugis Junction, we noticed that the train was relatively crowded. The time was already approaching 5pm.

Two young sporty ladies, with their haversacks on the floor, were standing in front of me, with their backs facing my direction. They were accompanied by a young sporty boy who was facing me.

The ladies were wearing tee shirts bearing the phrase 'Squeeze the Day!" on their backs.

Actually, I wanted to take a snapshot of them, but for reasons of propriety, I decided otherwise.

Nonetheless, the thought of the apt phrase continued to linger in my mind until I reached home.

I couldn't help thinking about its association with another apt phrase, "Seize the Day!".

Seize the Day! Squeeze the Day!

What a fine combination!

Seize the Day! = grasp the opportunity as it presents itself in your face;

I reckon this phrase has to do with one's "opportunity sensitivity".

Actually more than that. Action-mindedness plays an important role too.

Nike's "Just Do It!" comes quickly to mind, too.

When I think of Squeeze the Day, I naturally think of squeeze the orange!

So, Squeeze the Day! = compress the orange juice, so to speak, out of every moment of every day; more precisely, extract the fun, joy, love & happiness out of each day;

In a way, it's a little bit like extracting 25 hours or more out of only 24 hours.

This has to do with one's "productivity orientation" or "result orientation".

I reckon maybe one should also consider "Impossible is Nothing" from Adidas, contextually as a counterpoint to Nike's "Just Do It!".

How about this perspective about both worlds: "leveraging or gaining advantage from" the opportunity after "grasping" the opportunity?

Just some of my rambling thoughts.

Nevertheless, in both cases, I reckon one has also to factor in "knowing what to do exactly" & "knowing how to do it, effectively as well as efficiently".

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

If tomorrow were my last day, what would I like people to remember about me?

SPOTLIGHT: ARE YOU APE? ASLURPINGAPE!

I have spotted this retail outlet for fashion accessories with the catchy insignia at Bugis Junction this afternoon.



SPOTLIGHT: AN INGENIUS ADAPTATION FOR A TRADE NAME

To truly appreciate what I am writing in this particular post, first I must point out that you got to know the Chinese Language.

The Chinese trade name of this picture framing shop as shown in the photo, if translated literally, actually means "whiz kid of photography".

However, I have noted that it is an ingenious adaptation of the original Chinese idiomatic phrase which means "sex predator".

Only in phonetic terms, Chinese speaking naturally, that they bear the close similarity.

What a stroke of brilliance on the part of the signboard designer &/or shop owner!

The shop, which I have spotted today, is located on the ground floor of the North Bridge Centre at 420 North Bridge Road.

SPOTLIGHT: FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I have spotted this new eating outlet with the apt name at the North Bridge Centre this afternoon.

MEMORABLE QUOTE FROM THE MOVIE


"The distance between insanity & genius is measured only by success."

~ Elliot Carver, the egotistical media baron who was obsessed with the power to reach every person on the planet through his Carver Media Group Network, played by Jonathan Pryce, in the James Bond movie, 'Tomorrow Never Dies', with Pierce Brosnan as 007 ;

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"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out their dream with open eyes, to make it possible."

~ T.E. Lawrence, 1888-1935, soldier & author, better known as the 'Lawrence of Arabia' on account of his renowned role during the Arab Revolution (1916-1918); from his autobiographical account 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom';

Thursday, October 2, 2008

THE IMPORTANCE OF FINANCIAL PLANNING

I have thought that the open advice, as reported in today issue of the Straits Times, from Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim with regard to the practice of sound financial planning was appropriate & timely.

"I think it is important that we continue to do financial planning, to be judicious of how we use our resources," he said at the Mujahidin Mosque in Queensway yesterday morning after celebrating Hari Raya Puasa with some 1,000 Muslims.

To recap his open advice:

1) Improve the financial status of your families;

2) Do not overspend;

3) Think twice before you make purchases, especially big-ticket items;

4) Plan your expenditure;

5) Do not overburden yourselves with loans;

6) Save part of your salary;

7) Prioritise your spending;

8) Do not stint on your children's education - their future depends on how you as parents plan for them;

9) Be patient;

10) Practise prudence to prepare for tough times ahead;

In the same issue of the Straits Times, particularly the Money Page, I can't help noticing these depressing headlines:

"Japanese firms see more gloom."

"UBS may cut 1,900 jobs."

"US manufacturing activity at 7 year low."

"US headed for protracted downturn."

Correspondingly, there was an ad by the promoter of a self-proclaimed wealth coach by the name of Mirriam Williams from the United States with the dazzling caption:

"How to Trade Safely & Profitably in Volatile & Plunging Markets."

followed by credits as follows:

in the midst of the twists & turns that shocked the financial world, arising from Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy, Bank of America's take over of Merrill Lynch & the AIG bailout, a group of Smart Traders in Singapore were able to make money from the US stock market.

Frankly speaking, I have never been able to get a good grasp of how the stock market actually works, whether in Singapore or elsewhere.

All I know very well is that, two of my friends, one a financial whiz-kid & the other a public accountant, were badly burnt during the last Asian financial crisis.

The poor accountant friend, who in fact had actually lost all his CPF savings upon retirement plus a two-storey terraced home, almost kill himself, if not for the timely intervention of his wife & family members.

I sincerely hope that Singaporeans are alert, & make sure that they do not get carried away by misleading ads.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM SUPER SPY JASON BOURNE

On Sunday night, I had rewatched the spy thriller movie, 'The Bourne Ultimatum', on StarHub cable television.

I had in fact watched the movie in the cinema for the first time about a year ago. Please refer to my movie review in an earlier post.

On Monday afternoon, I proceeded to rewatch it one more time. My wife thought I was nuts.

As a matter of fact, I had rewatched 'The Bourne Identity' several times only a week ago, again on StarHub cable television. A few months earlier, I had also rewatched 'The Bourne Supremacy' along the same frequency, more or less.

Why am I so fascinated by this super spy Jason Bourne (JB)?

Well, first thing first, at least for me:

All the three movies were thrilling & entertaining to watch, with splendid action sequences & great story lines. I consider the many choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences within close quarters as the best I have ever seen in the movies. Even the car chase sequences drove me to the edge of my seat.

More importantly, I strongly feel that there are a lot of good stuff we can learn from Jason Bourne (JB), even though he was seemingly a "make-believe" character with fictional events from the fertile mind of Robert Ludrum, who had written more than twenty spy thrillers, all best sellers on the New York Times, coupled with ingenious adaptations by seasoned Hollywood tale blazers.

Interestingly, I have learned that Robert Ludrum's works were often meticulously researched with accurate technological, geographical & biographical details, even though he was apparently inspired by conspiracy theories, both historically & contemporarily.

I recall watching a video clip from 'The Jason Bourne Collection', comprising 'The Bourne Identity', 'The Bourne Supremacy' & 'The Bourne Ultimatum', which showed a brief interview with a former CIA operative, Chase Brandon, during which he sort of affirmed everything as portrayed in the movie.

Surprisingly, he even acknowledged Jason Bourne (JB) as a typical CIA field agent, & added that all the operational stuff JB had done would have been second nature to a typical CIA field agent.

Marketing hype? I really don't know.

All I am really interested is writing a post on what I think we can learn & how we can draw valuable life lessons from super spy Jason Bourne (JB), just for the fun of it. How about that?

What follows are just my streams of thoughts to put all the learnable stuff together for reader's entertainment:

#1: JB had an acute sense of awareness about his immediate surroundings, & also an uncanny ability to observe exceptions & spot anomalies - to smell out potential trouble or danger, so to speak.

This superb skill of his had allowed him to stay alive for so long, in fact, for three years starting from the botched assassination attempt in the first movie.

I am sure readers who have watched the first movie certainly recall the conversation at the truckstop cafe between JB & his girl friend, Marie, during which JB revealed:

"I come in here, instinctively first thing I do, I'm looking for the exit . . . I'm catching the sightlines . . . I know I can't sit with my back to the door . . . I can tell you the license plate of all 6 cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed & the guy sitting up at the counter weighs 215 pounds & knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab of the gray truck outside . . ."

For me, here are some of the selected scenes from the movies that further demonstrated JB's power of observation:

The Bourne Identity:

- observing the compound, the guards, the visitors & noticing Marie as she haggled with the visa officer in the hall at the US Consulate in Zurich, while he was queuing to be served;

- in the Paris apartment, just before a CIA assassin (Castel) came in to kill him & Marie;

- the next morning at the farmhouse (belonging to Marie's boyfriend), when he was told that the dog was missing & prior to the deadly shootout with a CIA assassin (The Professor);

- scanning the vicinity just before the aborted meeting with the rogue CIA coordinator (Conklin) at the Pont Neuf Bridge across the river Seine in Paris (that was a brilliant tactical manoeuvre, as he could later use it as a distraction to plant a tracking device on Conklin's vehicle to discover the location of the CIA safe house in Paris);

- observing the vicinity of the CIA safe house in Paris, just before infiltration;

The Bourne Supremacy:

- at the beginning segment of the movie while hiding out in the beach town of Goa, India, with Marie, during which something caught his attention . . . first, a rental car . . . then a sun-glassed man with sneakers & clothes, which somehow didn't fit into the scene;

- while being detained by Italian immigration/police in the port of Naples, he noticed that a junior CIA guy, who came in to interrogate him, was talking on his hand-phone about JB, after being interrupted during a brief interview . . . resulting in an embarrassing knock-out by JB, & a swift escape from the lock-up, after cloning the CIA guy's handphone;

- at the safe house of a CIA operative (Jarda) in Munich, & upon apprehending him in flexcuffs, noticing that he was watching his watch (he had signalled earlier for a back-up team) . . . prior to an exciting fist fight, resulting in the death of the latter, as well as a swiftly engineered explosive escape;

- sensing trouble at the corridor from inside the hotel room (after deliberately switching the rooms) at the Brecker Hotel in Berlin, resulting in a timely escape from German police;

The Bourne Ultimatum:

- at the busy Waterloo Station in London, which ended up with the fatal shooting of the nosy British reporter by a CIA assassin (Paz);

- at the abandoned premises of CIA section chief in Madrid, Spain, prior to neutralising two CIA operatives;

- following the trail of another CIA operative (Desh) on a scooter in Tangiers, Morocco, prior to the explosion which ended with the death of the CIA section chief, & the resultant rooftop chase through the labyrinth of the old city ;

- observing the movements of CIA deputy director Pamela Landy & CIA Deep Cover Anti-Terrorism Unit Chief Noah Vosen in their respective offices from afar with a telescope, resulting in a successful attempt to steal vital documents from the latter office;

Transposed to the real-world, I have learned that the power of observation or perceptiveness is a very significant key to creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship & strategy formulation.

I have also noticed that a lot of good books in the field of creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship & strategy formulation has already covered this aspect very intelligently.

My favourite authors include: Edward de bono, Michael Michalko, Peter Drucker, Henry Mintzberg, Michel Robert, Joel Arthur Barker, George Day & Paul Shoemaker, Adrian Slywotzky, Benjamin Gilad, Robert Duboff, Peter Schwartz, Faith Popcorn, Wayne Burkan, just to name a few.

Given a choice, I reckon a classic real-world business example is one from the world's most celebrated industrial design firm, IDEO.

One of the hallmarks of their ingenious innovation practice is "observing carefully the behaviour or anthropology of people who are using or going to use the product or service".

Please read about it in an earlier post.

In the realm of strategy formulation, strategy maestro Henry Mintzberg even shared 7 unique viewpoints for "seeing" the world.

Interestingly, even Leonardo da vinci (1452-1519), the great Renaissance maestro, had talked about it many many years ago, since his power of observation was legendary:

". . . for the development of a complete mind . . . develop your senses, especially learn how to see . . ."

Innovation strategist Wayne Burkan, writing in his book, 'Wide Angle Vision', revealed that North American natives practised an observation technique known as "splatter vision", which helped to enhance their tracking skills repertoire. The technique, drawing upon their peripheral vision, allowed them to absorb massive information inputs while scanning the horizon.

Similarly, he revealed that secret service agents, FBI agents, army snipers, police detectives as well as fighter pilots, wild game hunters, bird watchers & nature observers were often trained to apply "splatter vision" in their respective spheres of activity.

In the martial world, it is known as `soft eyes', often exemplified by the late Bruce Lee as he fended off fighting opponents with his stealthy anticipatory 'Jeet Kun Do' moves.

As a matter of fact, in the 'Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy', Japan's legendary combat strategist, Miyamoto Mushashi, taught how to 'relax & unfocus' the eyes in order to secure a sure victory during life-&-death duels.

[to be continued in the Next Post]

RAPID RECAP: THE ART OF PROBLEM SOLVING, FROM IDEO

According to my scratchpad notes, the problem solving methodology from the world's most celebrated industrial design firm has five basic steps:

1. Understand the market, the client, the technology, & the perceived constraints on the problem;

2. Carefully observe real people - the behaviour or "anthropology" - in real-life situations to find out what makes them tick: what confuses them, what they like, what they hate, where they have latent needs not addressed by current products & services; in other words, "start by following the customer journey, immersing in every possible aspect of a product or service as a user, with the existing gaps of need, convenience, & pleasure with which people live on a daily basis, breaking it down into component elements, & asking yourself how you can deliver a better customer experience";

3. Visualize new-to-the-world concepts & the customers who will use them - this is probably the most brainstorming-intensive phase of the process; also may include computer-based rendering or simulation, physical modeling, rapid prototyping & storyboarding;

4. Evaluate & refine the prototypes in a series of quick iterations, with varied inputs from the internal team, from the client team, from knowledgeable people not directly involved with the project, & from people who make up the target market, i.e. "cross-pollinating", with a focus on tangible results: what works & what doesn't, what confuses people, what they seem to like, & what can be improved in next round;

5. Implement the new concept for commercialization;

[Source: 'The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm', by Tom Kelley.]

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"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects."

~ Robert A. Heinlein, 1907-1988, American author, futurist, philosopher & spaceflight advocate; often acknowledged as the first grandmaster of science fiction;

[More information about the author & his work can be found at this link.]

FROM AGE-ING TO SAGE-ING II

[continue from the Last Post]

My gym buddy & I have a deep interest in understanding the age-ing phenomenon.

Just like me, he is also an avid reader in this respect, although he has a particular fancy for optimum nutrition, aesthetics, strength training, & endurance sports.

In fact, he told me his latest read is 'Advanced Marathoning' by Pete Pfitzinger.

My gym buddy has also revealed that one of the reasons for his relentless pursuit of health consciousness in recent years is partly influenced by the memory of the early departure of his dad at 57.

I told him that, based on what I have read recently, especially from 'Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development', by Prof George Vaillant (Harvard Medical School), ancestral longevity has been ruled out as one of the predictors, which also include parental characteristics & childhood temperament.

The ground-breaking landmark study was reportedly based on 3 research projects that followed 800 people from adolescence through old age. Naturally, it was an American study.

According to George Vaillant, successful physical & emotional aging is most dependent on:

- a lack of tobacco & alcohol abuse;

- an adaptive coping style (the ability to make lemonade out of life's lemons - for me, that's a really good way to put it!);

- maintaining healthy weight with regular exercise;

- sustained loving (in most cases, marital) relationship;

- having a capacity for creativity & play - (I read it: using your brain for a change & have fun while doing it!;

- cultivating spirituality (please don't confuse this with religious pursuits, although religion is also one aspect of it);

Interestingly, the foregoing findings dovetail with the brilliant work of Prof Paul Nussbaum, whom I have mentioned in earlier posts.

From my reading of 'Ageing Well', the end analysis is that it all boils down to the lifestyle choices we are making right now that will eventually affect how we reach a happy & healthy old age.

The author sums up best with this apt insight:

"Owning an old brain you see is rather like owning an old car . . . careful driving & maintenance are everything!"

From my personal perspective, another interesting author in the field of age-ing research is Dr Andrew Weil, also of Harvard Medical School.

He wrote the book, 'Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical & Spiritual Wellbeing'.

According to the author, we should all enjoy what aging has to offer us, & actually welcome it into our lives. I like his approach: enjoy as we age gracefully.

His book has a lot of other good stuff e.g. the 12 point program & the anti-inflammatory diet.

Nonetheless, he affirms that the key components of a good health at every age are:

- positive outlook;

- exercise;

- nutrition;

- vitamins & herbs;

- stress relieving activites;

- rest & sleep;

- sustainable relationships;

In a nut shell, as a quick review, the secrets of healthy longevity: ATTITUDE, ACTIVITY, & DIET.

SPOTLIGHT: . . . I CAN CHOOSE

I had spotted this product box, with the apt caption, just behind the shopfront glass panel of a spectacle shop in the Ang Mo Kio Hub yesterday afternoon while window-shopping with my wife.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

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"I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time."

~ Jack London, 1876-1916, American author who wrote 'The Call of the Wild', 'White Fang', & 'The Sea Wolf', along with many other popular books; one of the first Americans to make a lucrative career exclusively from writing;

FROM AGE-ING TO SAGE-ING

My first inkling of the age-ing experience came about when I was about to cross the beginning of the second life cycle, using the Chinese zodiac analogy, in April this year.

I didn't want to celebrate, but my slightly older buddies, especially my gym buddy, thought otherwise & eventually threw me a nice lunch.

On top of that, I even received ang pows (red packets for auspicious occasions) from the rest.

Gee Whiz, the feeling for me was really great, but I knew then that I would be reclassified as a full-fledged Senior Citizen, with more attendant privileges. For example, concessionary rates for taking the MRT & Transit buses, visiting the Zoo, Bird Park + other amusement parks.

[At 55, I was already enjoying concessionary rates at the local cinemas & special discounts at NTUC & their affiliates.]

Physically, I didn't change much of my daily routines, but intellectually, I have taken up a deep interest in reading all kinds of stuff about age-ing matters, on top of my other regular stuff.

First, the revealing statistics & pertinent information from my readings of the local newspapers:

- today, less than 8% of Singaporeans are 65 years or older; by 2025, around 20% of Singaporeans will be Senior Citizens;

- the current life expectancy rate is 81.3 years for women & 77.4 years for men;

- Singapore is one of the fastest age-ing nation in the world;

- cognitive vitality is essential to the quality of life in old age;

- successful age-ing is a function of physical health (including exercise & diet), brain power, social involvement & spiritual pursuits;

On that note, I like to share with readers further about what I have read from selected books as well as interesting articles on this fascinating subject matter, as far as I am concerned:

In the book, 'From Age-Ing to Sage-Ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older', rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has "recontextualised age-ing as the anticipated fulfillment of life, not its inevitable decline" by devising a proactive age-ing concept he called "Spiritual Eldering".

In a nut shell, from my personal perspective, it's actively drawing upon life experiences to enrich our elder years as well as consciously mentoring others, & also each other, in the years ahead, in addition to partaking a proactive engagement with life in the twilight years.

As I read his book, I couldn't help myself chuckling as I realise that, right in our Singapore, MM Lee Kuan Yew is already a shiny example of what the rabbi is talking about.

The job of MM Lee as well as SM Goh Chok Tong, as we all know, is ensuring the continuity of the country's pragmatic leadership & safeguarding the long-term interests of the people, even though PM Lee Hsien Loong holds the reins of the government.

Also importantly, they are there to provide "spiritual guidance" to the younger ministers.

To me, this is "spiritual eldering" at its best.

On top of all these, MM Lee is an awesome inspiration to all of us Singaporeans for his proactive engagement with life in the twilight years.

He has just celebrated his 85th birthday, & his positive attitude of following an active exercise & moderate diet routine, & best of all, treating each day as a bonus, is admirable.

As current Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), I reckon the job doesn't make it easy for him, considering the huge financial mess that is confronting the world as a whole today.

[I find it gratifying to learn that GIC has grown assets at at average rate of 4.5% p.a. after accounting for global inflation over the past 20 years. More gratifying is GIC's mixed portfolio now stands at well over US$100 billion.]

All I can say is that we should draw some parallels from MM Lee's rich life experiences & disciplined personal habits to be adapted & incorporated into our own lives, so that we can embrace a more proactive engagement with life in more or less the same manner as we step into the unexplored territory of the twilight years.

I also like to take this opportunity to highlight a similar concept - the author calls it "spiritual hardiness" as a vital component of successful age-ing - from 'Don't Call me Old, I'm Just Awakening', by psychologist Marsha Sinetar. [Please refer to an earlier post of mine.]

[She is the author of two wonderful classics, 'Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow' & 'Developing the 21st Century Mind', which I had read - & followed - during the early nineties.]

Among her many other good stuff in the book, what fascinates me most is her suggestion of setting up an "encouragement team" to encourage each other during the elder years to "keep on 'keeping on'". I like that, & to be frank, we all need that to survive & thrive in our twilight years.

That's the essence of "spiritual eldering", too.

[to be continued in the Next Post.]

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

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"The future is roaring into our lives like an express freight on a steep downhill, the throttle stuck in wide open. Some of us are on the train, some clustered around the tracks, some standing on the tracks, (some tied to the tracks?), & some only hear the whistle screaming in the distance. Hold onto your (fill in appropriate item of clothing or body part) folks, it's gonna be a wild ride!"

~ Jeff Davis;

POINTS TO PONDER: LIFE IS A JOURNEY. . .

"Life is a journey in time.

The journey presents us with choices.

We experience those choices as forks in the road.

Our future depends on choices we make as we come to those junctions in our journey.

These choices are not to be taken lightly."

~ from Robert Frost's 'Image of the Future';

BOOK REVIEW: 'ASIA'S FUTURE SHOCK', by Michael Backman

Very rare do I acquire or read books that are designed to provide a myriad of latest DEGEST (demographic, economic, government, environmental, social & technological) perspectives about Asia &/or the world in general.

Obsolescence is one prime factor.

In keeping abreast of such specific information, I normally go for my regularly updated diet from Straits Times' economic analyses/political commentaries/business insights pages, supplemented by watching those timely broadcasts from Channel News Asia, as well as CNN. I read occasionally the Business Times.

A good case in point is the recent two transcripts (in the Straits Times) of MM Lee Kuan Yew's dialogue with 200 diplomats & academics during his visit to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London last week.

The only occasional deviation from my self-imposed rule is that I would sometimes acquire or read books that paint probable long-term DEGEST scenarios by global futurists, like 'The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years', by James Canton.

I have recently made an exception - partly attracted by the intriguing title, & partly, by the offer of a 20% store discount - by acquiring a copy of 'Asia Future Shock: Business Crisis & Opportunity in the Coming Years', by Michael Backman.

In the first instance, the author's credentials & track record in churning out earlier books in the genre seem impeccable to me.

Upon perusal, I am glad that the book has given me a quick & pretty comprehensive coverage of the region, particularly China, India, the two Koreas, Vietnam, Burma, & snippets of stuff about Singapore, Malaysia & Indonesia.

Frankly speaking, I have been quite captivated by the story of the author's search of a school in London for his son in the Introduction. I thought that was a pretty smart way to start off his book.

I am rather pleased to add that his resultant remark about the aptness of his book as ". . . a tool for small boys & girls, or at least their parents" is valid.

As an avid reader, I certainly have enjoyed reading the whole stuff in the book, especially about the risks & opportunities in the coming years, in one single collection.

There are 25 chapters, each offering a quick roundup of strategic insights, with suggestions for business strategists & scenario developers. Each chapter is also prefaced with a brief preamble with staggering statistics to tease reader's attention.

For me, the analyses are seemingly broad-based, but nonetheless, considering the size of the Asian region under coverage, the information given is adequate enough to give, in particular business readers, a good solid brush about the impact of China, India & the rest of Asia.

Not surprisingly, I haved noted that much of the author's sources have been international newspapers & broadcasted news. The Economist Intelligence Unit has also been cited as a source. During my corporate days, published reports from the latter were my regular intellectual companions.

This is another book I would keep at my bedside at least for the moment.

Monday, September 29, 2008

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"Innovative leadership? It's passion; it's learning; it's humility in front of mistakes & errors - understanding that they are necessary elements to learn faster than the others - & it's the target setting . . . yes, stretched targets!"

~ Pekka Ala-Pietila, former President of telecom giant NOKIA Corporation (1999-2005);

ZERO GRAVITY THINKERS

I reckon it is very fascinating, at least for me, to engage a group of outside people who can bring new perspectives & contrarian viewpoints to your project team.

These people may not be a permanent part of a particular group.

They may just be employees from other parts of the company, outside consultants, or even people "borrowed" from other, non-competing companies.

In the book, 'Innovation Killers: How What We Know Limits What We Can Imagine', innovation strategist Cynthia Rabe uses the fancy term of "zero gravity thinkers" to describe these people.

According to her, the right zero gravity thinker will ideally possess the following traits:

1) Psychological distance:

- not tied to the hierarchy of the group; hopefully their open minds make it easier for them to propose unpopular ideas;

2) Renaissance tendencies:

- a wide range of broad interests, experiences, & influences, with the ability to put disparate ideas together in new & useful combinations;

3) Related expertise:

- strength &/or working experience in a relevant area, but not necessarily related to your specific field, may lead to "intersection points" at which innovative solutions can be found;

Her idea of engaging such people is to combat 'GroupThink' (with the tendency to make decisions like the people with whom we work most closely) as well as 'ExpertThink' (with the tendency to go along with tried & true methods of experts).

Interestingly, the deliberate innovative blending or cross-pollinating of inputs, processes, practices, techniques, cultures, & even infrastructures, from both internal as well as external people reminds me of the concept of "shifting personas" as originally postulated by creativity guru Roger von oech many years ago: 'Explorer', 'Artist', 'Judge' & 'Warrior'.

In the foregoing book, the author has highlighted the work of Edward de bono, with particular reference to the 'Six Thinking Hats' problem solving methodology, as well as the work of high-profile, award-winning industrial design firm IDEO, as exemplified in the two wonderful books, 'The Art of Innovation' & '10 Faces of Innovation' by Thomas Kelley.

Operationally, they also accentuate the concept of "shifting personas".

In the latter book, the author defines 10 "personas", including 'Anthropologists', who contribute insights by observing human behavior; 'Experimenters', who try new things; 'Cross-pollinators'; 'Hurdlers', who surmount obstacles; 'Collaborators', who bring people together & get things done; 'Director'; 'Experience Architects'; 'Set Designers'; 'Storytellers'; & 'Caregivers', who anticipate & meet customer needs.

I recall watching a wonderful video clip during the nineties from creativity guru Ann McGee Cooper, which showed young kids participating in a brainstorming session with corporate executives in the boardroom. I thought that was really cute!

[Ann McGee Cooper is the author of three wonderful classics, 'Building Brain Power', 'You Don't Have to Go Home from Work Exhausted' & 'Time Management for Unmanageable People'.]

Another good book to read in this context, particularly understanding the juxtaposition of ideas, cultures, disciplines & strategies in new & previously unexplored ways, with a whim of history, is Frans Johannson's 'The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, & Cultures'.

Drawing from my personal & professional experiences, the purpose of "shifting personas" is to bring up fresh perspectives of looking at the same problem or situation.

The following quote from Marcel Proust certainly drives home the point here:


"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes".

From the standpoint of futuristic thinking & scenario planning, I reckon it is worthwhile for readers to explore the work of the Global Business Network (GBN) in Peter Schwartz's 'The Art of the Long View'.

GBN often juxtaposes expert as well as naive insights of members with diverse fields of expertise, varied professional backgrounds, & multi-disciplinary practices to paint probable future scenarios for multi-national companies as well as governments around the world, including Singapore.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Everyone has a purpose in life . . . an unique talent, skill or ability . . . When you blend your unique talent with service to others, you experience the ecstasy & exultation of your spirit, which is the ultimate goal of all goals."

~ 'The Law of Dharma', according to Deepak Chopra; 'Dharma' is a Sanskrit word that means 'your unique spiritual purpose for living';

[Here's a link to an interesting article, 'What's Your Spiritual Purpose For Living?', by Hu Dalconzo.]

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

"Remember the two benefits of failure:

First, if you fail, you learn what doesn't work;

Second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach."

~ Roger von oech, creativity guru & author of two wacky classics, 'A Whack on the Side of the Head' & 'A Kick in the Seat of the Pants';

LOSE IT OR USE MORE OF IT!

Yesterday's issue of the Straits Times has carried a very good report on the aging population, with specific reference to those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's Disease.

Although not surprised, I did find the reported devastating affliction very frightening.

At a personal level, I can relate very easily to the phenomenon as my granny-in-law (Catherine's granny) is a mild dementia patient. She is now into her mid-nineties, & her adopted daughter, Veronica, a dental officer, is looking after her, with the aid of an Indonesian maid.

Whenever I pop in to visit her a couple of times a year [compulsory visit on the eve as well as the 15th evening of the Lunar Chinese New Year], she can remember me very well, & better still, she has very vivid memories of Catherine [both Catherine & Veronica have been under her foster care during their childhood], but she often forgets that Catherine has passed away in late 2001, despite repetitive reminders during our conversations.

As for my new wife, Amay, who happens to click pretty well with her since my wife can speak a smattering of the local Cantonese dialect, my granny-in-law often gets confused with my remarriage, despite prompting from her adopted daughter.

In much earlier years, she has often spent her time playing mahjong, but she has slowed down very much with her advancing age, & also her mahjong kakis (game buddies) are slowly dwindling in numbers.

Early medical check-up is one thing to starve off the impact of dementia, but I strongly feel that a more effective strategy is to keep oneself physically & mentally active as well as constantly learning new things.

Not in the elder or twilight years, but preferably as early as from a young working age.

Another effective strategy is to embrace & indulge in a favourite past time or hobby. Preferably one that involves planning & thinking in some way.

I always tell many of my associates or friends who are still in their mid-forties to start developing some form of hobbies, so that upon their retirment, they can always have something to look forward to & to get involved at a physical level.

Incidentally, hobbies can also be converted to businesses, just as what I had done in my own way.

Of course, one should not forget to include regular physical activity & moderate diet of fruits, vegetables & fish, with a good supplement of vitamins, in everyday routines.

Last, but not least, a continuous pursuit of intellectual growth in their many physical manifestations, like reading, writing, blogging, thinking, planning, working on projects, & socialising, is definitely a potent strategy designed to lower the risk of cognitive decline.

Even volunteering is helpful, as one gets to interact & move around with other people.

I would even point out that socialising or networking locally or globally is definitely a potent force in starving off dementia.

For example, I have a good buddy from my Wednesday Club, an accountant by training, & gradually approaching the early 70s of age, plays golf weekly, jointly looks after his perky little grand-daughter together with his wife, reads & digests the commentaries/analyses/insights pages of daily newspapers, watches CNN news, hangs out with golf/wine/makan (food) buddies in the evenings to talk cock, so to speak, & debates hot issues of the day.

Once a year, he flies off to San Francisco to spend 3 months with his two other grand kids during the summer holidays, & serves as nanny, home cook, confidante & sparring partner, all rolled into one, besides playing golf with his eldest son during the weekends.

That's how he keeps his body & mind nimble & alert.

I often admire all those old folks who hang out in the neighbourhood coffee-shops to chit-chat or having pow-wow with their contemporary pals in the mornings &/or evenings. They are definitely on the right track.

Every aspect of the foregoing activities as I have already mentioned above stimulates the brain.

In other words, use more of your brain & maintain a stimulating environment around you.

That's why since the early 90's after leaving the corporate world, I have initiated & embarked on a concerted, systematic, & disciplined, self-paced developmental program in:

learning, reading, writing reviews, blogging, surfing the net, socialising & interacting with buddies, networking on the net, globe-trotting, window-shopping, on top of regular exercising in the gym & walking to the gym & in the neighbourhood after meals;

plus the occasional consulting & teaching assignments on referrals from old clients.

My latest hobby is digital photography, plus learning & playing with photo/video editing softwares.

I certainly live up to my monicker.

In ending this post, I like to leave the following apt quotation as food for thought:

"Do something that challenges & engages your mind, not because it's difficult, but because it's different from what you normally do."

~ Dr Lawrence Katz, Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University, & author of 'Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises To Help Preven Memory Loss & Increase Mental Fitness';

IS SINGAPORE A LAND OF OPPORTUNITY?

The other day, while sipping beverages at the neighbourhood coffee-shop after our gym practice, my gym buddy & I was talking, among other stuff, about 'foreigners' flocking to Singapore to seek opportunities [read: gold].

In Singapore, shipyards, construction sites, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, food courts, public transport & cleaning operations e.g. public toilets, have experienced their heavy influx in recent years.

Yesterday's Straits Times report confirmed the numbers.

Latest figures show 757,000 work permit holders, 143,000 on employment pass & 85,000 foreign students.

In the first half of this year, there were 34,800 new PR (permanent resident)s & 9,600 new citizens, as compared with 28,5000 & 7,300 respectively last year.

As a result, Singapore's population has shot up to 4.84 million in June.

[Interestingly, about 950 Singaporeans gave up their citizenship last year, while 153,500 are working & studying overseas.]

No wonder, the food courts, MRT trains & shopping malls are packed with 'foreigners', judging from the prevalence of non-Singaporean voices at these places. Of course, many of them may be tourists.

My neighbourhood food courts/coffee-shops - there are actually four in the immediate vicinity of my apartment block in Jurong West - are good examples.

Most of the drink servers are young Chinese nationals. Several hawker stalls are also owned or run by hard-working Chinese nationals.

More interestingly, a small number of 'ang moh' faces is also popping up in my neighbourhood.

Looking at it objectively, I reckon the influx of foreigners generally reflects our country's buoyant economy, & also our comparative political stability. The other plus factors to foreigners are a safe & clean environment.

In a way, we Singaporeans should be proud that they have chosen Singapore to work &/or stay.

It is also fair to mention that many of the jobs where 'foreigners' are engaged, e.g. shipyards, construction sites, public transport & cleaning operations, in Singapore are shunted by Singaporeans.

The 'foreigner' issue is hotly debated, judging from newspaper reports & Internet forums.

On the public entertainment side, e.g. karaoke joints, the influx of young foreign damsels is even more shocking. I often read from Straits Times reports that the local enforcement authorities had to deport them by the thousands from their regular dragnets.

I understand from several of my active social buddies that, to all those young foreign damsels, Singapore is indeed a land of vast opportunities to strike gold, so to speak. I often like to refer them as "mercenaries". [Please read my earlier post on this topic.]

To illustrate my point, let me share with readers an interesting anecdote from my neighbourhood fruit seller.

Some of the more enterprising foreign damsels had even resorted to masquerading as karang guni operators in the HDB heartland. They moved around HDB flats under the pretense of buying & collecting used newspapers & unwanted household stuff.

When a male occupant at the door was noted to be alone at home, they would ask: "Can I offer you my other special services?"

Come to think of it, I must salute them for their spark of ingenuity to drum up business?

[Readers may recall a brief comment by PM Lee Hsien Loong about an illegal Chinese immigrant who was eventually caught. He was running a chain of hawker stalls on the island. PM Lee was actually using him as a example of having that entrepreneurial streak.]

Nonetheless, I reckon this is the only one 'foreigner' issue that doesn't seem to irk my fellow Singaporeans much, at least not at the moment.

A PERSONAL TRIBUTE TO PAUL NEWMAN

I have just received the news alert from New York Times that Paul Newman has died at his home in Westport, Connecticut. He was 83.

Among his many movies, my personal favourites are 'Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid', 'Harper', 'Hombre', 'Moving Target', 'Road to Perdition', 'The Sting', 'The Drowning Pool', 'The Left-handed Gun', 'The MacKintosh Man', 'Torn Curtain' & 'Winning'.

You can read more about him in the New York Times report. Here's the link.

I have deliberately taken out this wonderful quote attributed to him:

“We are such spendthrifts with our lives. The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”