Saturday, December 27, 2008

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM 'MEN IN BLACK': Street Smart vs School Smart

I had just finished re-watching the thrilling part-sci-fi fantasy, part-comedy movie, 'Men in Black (MiB)' (1997), starring Tommy Lee Jones (as veteran Agent K) & Will Smith (as a street smart NYPD Detective J or James Edwards, who became Agent J under training), on StarHub cable television.

In a nut shell, the comic story traced the exploits of Agent K & Agent J, working with a top-secret organisation, known by the initials MiB, which had been established since the fifties to monitor & police extra-terrestrial activity on planet Earth.

The two agents found themselves in the middle of the deadly plot by an intergalactic big bug disguised in human form after a crash-landing (in New York city of all places) on planet Earth to assassinate two extra-terrestrial ambassadors from opposing galaxies.

In order to prevent the destruction of planet Earth, they had to track down & neutralise the big bug, with the aid of space-age technology & razor-sharp wits of course.

For me, I thought that one particular segment of the movie, when Will Smith as a street smart NYPD Detective J, was about to be recruited by MiB as Agent J, had provided a great exemplification of what I would call, "street smart vs school smart".

As part of the MiB recruit drive, the selected candidates including NYPD Detective J were invited to participate in a series of tests at MiB headquarters, led by Chief Zed (played by Rip Torn).

Detective J was the only one who seemed to question why they were all there in the first place.

One of the other candidates stood up & identified himself as Second Lieutenant Jake Jenson, West Point, Graduate with honors, & said: "We're here because you are looking for the best of the best of the best, Sir!"

Detective J laughingly responded by saying: "Boy, Captain America over here! "Best of the Best of the Best, Sir!" "With honors." Yeah, he's just really excited and he has no clue why we're here."

The first test was a paper test. All the candidates were busy writing on their papers while still sitting on their butts in spherical chairs with no desks around.

Detective J was apparently the only one who stood up, went to drag along a nearby low-lying coffee table nearer to his chair so that he could write his papers on.

Next, was the shooting test.

In the shooting range, all the candidates were blasting away their weapons at the numerous menacing-looking cardboard targets.

Detective J was the only who paused to look at all the targets, & finally chose to shoot only a cardboard little girl.

Chief Zed: "May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?"

Detective J: "Well, she was the only one that actually seemed dangerous at the time, Sir."

Chief Zed: "How'd you come to that conclusion?"

Detective J: "Well, first I was gonna pop this guy hanging from the street light, & I realized, you know, he's just working out. I mean, how would I feel if somebody come running in the gym & bust me in my ass while I'm on the treadmill?

Then I saw this snarling beast guy, & I noticed he had a tissue in his hand, & I'm realizing, you know, he's not snarling, he's sneezing. You know, ain't no real threat there.

Then I saw little Tiffany. I'm thinking, you know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit, Zed. She's about eight years old, those books are way too advanced for her.

If you ask me, I'd say she's up to something."

That's what I call a street smart analysis.

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

"Experience comes in two different flavors: your own & the experience of others. Most people can learn from their own experiences quite well, but many people simply ignore the experiences & lessons of others."

~Donald Trump, Chairman & CEO of the Trump Organization; his extravagant lifestyle & outspoken manner have made him a celebrity for years, a status which was only amplified by the success of his own reality show, 'The Apprentice', where he serves as host & executive producer;

A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE OF VITAL CHARACTERISTICS IN OUR OWN 'ACRES OF DIAMONDS'

On Christmas eve, while having a lot of time to spare just before dinner, my wife & I dropped into the Paragon Shopping Mall at Orchard Road to browse the exquisite boutiques. As usual, our objective was window-shopping, nothing else.

At one of the jeweller's boutiques on the ground floor, we paused to gawk at some of the diamond decorations on display at the shop-window.

A colourful chart, displayed with diagrams & notes, caught my personal attention. It outlined the 4 C's or diamond characteristics.

Here's a brief overview of the Four C’s:

1. Cut:

- It determines how a diamond shines, & it does not refer to the shape of the diamond;

- In reality, it describes the manner in which a diamond has been fashioned from its original form as a rough stone to its final gem proportions;

- Each cut is therefore a different configuration of the original stone;

- In essence, we are referring to the reflective qualities of the diamond which determines its ability to handle light, which leads to brilliance;

- When the cut is ideal, the light reflects back out of the diamond through the table & to the observer's eye. This light is the brilliance, & it's this flashing, fiery effect that makes diamonds so mesmerizing;

- The most popular cuts are: Asscher, Cushion, Emerald, Heart, Marquise, Oval, Pear, Princess, Radiant, Round Brilliant & Trilliant;

2. Color:

- It's produced from chemical impurities contained in a diamond;

- The whiter or colourless the diamond, the more brilliant it will be because it will allow more light to pass & be reflected back;

- Also the whiter the diamond, the more colours it will reflect back to achieve that desirable rainbow brilliance only a well-cut, colourless diamond can create;

- Diamonds have a range of many colors, from fancy more expensive ones of blue & pink, to regular diamonds of less value that appear yellow or brown;

- Aside from special fancy ones, it is true that the less color one has, the better the rating;

- The “grades” run from D (mostly colorless) to Z (slightly yellow);

- The higher the grade the higher the value;

3. Clarity:

- It's essentially a measurement of the amount of blemishes (external flaws) or inclusions (internal flaws) a diamond contains;

- Inclusion can be air bubbles, cracks, & non-diamond minerals found in the stone;

- Hence, no diamond is perfect! The little blemishes &/or inclusions can be what make one unique;

- Blemishes or inclusions are not generally visible to the naked eye;

- Only about 20 percent of all diamonds mined have a clarity rating high enough for the diamond to be considered appropriate for use as a gemstone; the other 80 percent are relegated to industrial use;

- Of that top 20 percent, a significant portion contains one or more visible inclusions;

- The inclusions are graded on two scales;

- The first scale rates the gem from 0-10, with 0 being the fewest blemishes & 10 the most;

- Then they are grouped on a more complicated scale that measures the visibility of the inclusions;

- They range from: (FL) Flawless, (IF) Internally Flawless, (VVS1 & VVS2) Very Very Slightly Included, (VS1 & VS2) Very Slightly Included, (SI1, SI2, & SI3) Slightly Included & the bottom grades of Included appear as (I1, I2, & I3).

4. Carat:

- It's a unit of measurement for the weight of a diamond, with one carat equaling to 200 milligrams, or 0.2 grams, also known as 100 points;

- Since larger diamonds are harder to find than smaller ones, the price of diamonds with respect to their carat weight goes up exponentially;

- Prices tend to jump drastically at the 1 carat mark, regardless;

- But keep in mind that two diamonds of the same weight could have different sizes. Why? If a diamond is cut too shallow (or flat) it will have a larger diameter, but shallow depth & appear larger;

- Likewise, if a diamond is cut too deep (or pointed) it will have a smaller diameter & deep depth & appear smaller. This is why cut is so important;

- The size you pick is completely dependent on the effect you want the stone to have, a larger piece that attracts attention or a smaller piece with a better pedigree;

My objective of writing this post is not only to talk about the real diamond characteristics as applied in evaluating the gem, but also, just for the fun of it, how to apply more or less the same evaluation to our lives in the context of standing on our own acres of diamonds, so to speak.

I am sure most readers are already familiar with the often-told story of 'Acres of Diamonds' from lawyer, newspaper editor turned clergyman Russell Conway (1843-1925).

To recap in a nut shell, the crux of the story is that, as I have understood, each of us is at this very moment standing in the middle of our own 'Acres of Diamonds', if only we would realise it & develop the ground we are standing on, before charging off in search of greener pastures elsewhere.

Success guru Earl Nightingale had once put it very beautifully:

"Opportunity does not just come along - it's there all the time - we just have to see it!"

That's to say, in a another way, if we would only have the wisdom & patience to intelligently & effectively explore within ourselves & also the sphrere of work in which we are engaged in, we would usually find the riches we seek.

So, how to go about it, or more specifically, how to develop & sustain this opportunity sensing capability?

The diamond characteristics I have talked about in the earlier part of this post now come in handy to serve as my idea triggers.

Also, thanks to the brain's innate ability to make strategic connections.

First, the cut.

"A cut above the rest" comes to my mind.

To stay "a cut above the rest", we must develop expertise in the long term. Expand our horizons. Embrace multiple skills, especially in today's fast-changing world.

I reckon one of the important skills to develop & master is the power of observation. Open up all our senses to the world at large, so that we can see clearly what's really happening out there in the world outside.

I believe the other important skills to acquire are:

- personal self-management;
- creative & critical thinking;
- problem solving;
- interpersonal communication;
- team-building & conflict resolution.

Next, the colour.

For me, "creativity" comes to my mind when I think about colours. This is because the whole world, as we experience it visually, comes to our eyes through the mystical realm of vibrant colors.

As such, I begin to relate to the masterwork of creativity gurus like Edward de bono, Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, Jerry Rhodes & Anthony Hodgson.

In essence, put on our thinking caps or hats. I mean living & seeing the vibrant colours of our minds. In short, be creative & innovative.

So, to maintain mental flexibility, there are different colours for different thoughts.

More precisely, different perspective windows for looking at the world.

To illustrate, I am now drawing my cues from Anthony Hodgson:

Yellow - opportunities;

Black - problems;

Green - innovation;

Brown - improvements;

Blue - environmental factors;

Orange - internal factors;

White - strengths;

Grey - ambiguities;

Purple - strategic or long term views;

Red - tactical action;

Next, the clarity.

Naturally, I come to think of "clarity is power". In other words, "clarity of thought".

To me, "clarity of thought" is essentially thinking things through, & sorting them out systematically.

"Clarity of thought" also reflects our ability to connect all the dots, so to speak.

Putting it in perspective, we must be clear of who & where we are, & then, what we want out of life &/or where we want to go, exactly.

Also, why we want it in the first place.

"Clarity of thought" always leads to clarity of expression as manifested in all the things we do.

Without clarity of thought, the world is likely to appear fuzzy or foggy.

It is important to understand that "clarity of thought" also involves intelligently & effectively using all the knowledge & skills we have gained to deal with problems & challenges as we travel on the highway of life.

Lastly, the carat.

I can't help recalling one of my favourite movies from the 70's:

'40 Carats', starring Liv Ullmann, Eddie Albert & Gene Kelly.

The amusing & yet heart-warming movie story had centred on a 40-year old divorcee (played by Liv) who unwittingly had a one night stand with a 20-something guy (played by Eddie), both on vacation separately in Greece. She then left abruptly for home in USA, & to her chagrin, found out later one day that he was actually her daughter's boyfriend. The romance thus continued.

In the movie, the '40 Carats' had referred to her maturity of experience, quite similar to the character of 'Mrs Robinson' in another earlier but also wonderful movie, 'The Graduate', starring Dustin Hoffman & Anne Bancroft.

So, in a way, the weight of our life experiences counts.

We all know that life experiences form our lifetime inventory of knowledge & skills that results from our direct participation in life's events.

As the old adage goes, good judgement comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgement.

In fact, life experience are those marvellous things acquired that enable us to recognise mistakes when we make them again.

The important thing is that we must continually broaden our mental horizons & life experiences - through playing, exploring, experimenting & learning - so that we can attain a larger repertoire of knowledge & skills to deal with new challenges.

Nothing is a waste of time if we make use of our life experiences wisely.

The way I see it in the end analysis, with the "cut above the rest", the "colours of our mind", the clarity of thought in our thinking, & the weight of our life experiences, all of us can now see more clearly that the greener pastures are right at where we are standing.

I trust readers have enjoyed reading my musings & ramblings for a change.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"Know who is responsible. I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life.

I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself."


~ Walter Anderson, CEO & Chairman of Parade Magazine; also author of 'The Confidence Course: Seven Steps to Self-Fulfillment', which is based on his popular course at the New School for Social Research in New York city;

Friday, December 26, 2008

MAKING DISTINCTIONS: ACCURACY vs PRECISION

I didn't realise that there is a distinction between "accuracy" & "precision" until I have recently reflected on my recalled observation of an advertisement for Ball watches from Switzerland, which ran as follows:

"Accuracy is everything when you're measuring ocean currents in the Antarctica."

~ Richard Limeburner, oceanographer;

I do know that both terms are often used in context to denote the measurement of something.

Upon reading, I understand now that "accuracy" apparently refers to the accuracy of an experiment or object or value. It's a single measurement of how closely the experimental results agree with a true or accepted value.

On the other hand, "precision" refers to the precision of an experiment or object or value. It's a measurement of the reliability of the experiment, or how reproducible the experiment is, with several readings of the experiment.

One can say that a measurement is accurate, but not precise; precise, but not accurate; neither or both.

Let's take a simple example:

- 3.14 is an accurate value of pie in mathematics, but it is not precise;

- 3.1415 may be more precise;

Another example:

Imagine a person throwing darts in a pub, trying to hit the bullseye.

The closer the dart hits to the bullseye, the more accurate the tosses are. If the person misses the dartboard with every throw, but all of their shots land close together, they can still be very precise, but not accurate.

Another distinction between "accuracy" & "precision" is that, "accuracy" can be determined by one measurement, while many measurements are needed to determine "precision".

So, in a nut shell, as I understand now, "accuracy" is the degree of veracity, while "precision" is the degree of reproducibility.

Nevertheless, it is also pertinent to understand that there is no such thing as a perfect measurement.

Each measurement contains a degree of uncertainty due to the limits of instruments & the people using them.

In laboratory experiments, students are expected to follow the same procedure that scientists follow when they make measurements.

SPOTLIGHT: HOPE MIND FOR EVER

I had spotted this dummy model with a simple white dress adorned with the fancy & yet intriguing caption, "HOPE MIND FOR EVER" the other day at one of the boutiques in the Jurong Point Shopping Mall.

Frankly, I have yet to figure out what it means or represents.

I have always thought that hope is only for people who are hopeless.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

". . . Love what you do . . . do the things that give you purpose & joy . . . & even if you can’t do them as fast as you once did, or you have to sit down instead of standing . . . you can still tap that purpose & joy."

~ from 93-year-old Art Tysk, giving lessons on growing old well by doing what he loves to do, as reported in a recent 'Changing Aging' blog post of 'Ecumen: Living Fully After 50';

SUCCESSFUL AGING: WHAT THE OLDEST OLDS CAN TEACH US

Here's a link to an interesting article, entitled 'Successful Aging: What The Oldest Olds Can Teach Us', which I have stumbled upon today.

It's an interview by the Dana Foundation with Dr Claudia Kawas, Professor of Neurology, Neurobiology & BehaviorAssociate Director, Institute for Brain Aging of the University of California at Irvine.

The interview reveals some excellent perspectives about factors that are relevant to the health & longevity of people in their 90s.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

SPENDING TO KEEP THE ECONOMY GOING

This afternoon, my wife & I happily joined the holiday shopping crowd in celebrating post-Christmas sales at the enlarged Jurong Point Shopping Mall, now combining Jurong Point 1 (JP1)& Jurong Point 2 (JP2), located next to the Boon Lay Bus Interchange/Boon Lay MRT Station.

As usual, we went there by air-conditioned bus service #157.

We saw that there was a very long queue of private cars entering the JP car park.

The JP shopping mall, especially JP2, was jam-packed with eager holiday shoppers. It was about 12.30pm. The food courts & fast food restaurants apparently had long waiting queues, with cash registers ringing non-stop.

Instinct told me to proceed to the Crystal Jade Kitchen on the 3rd floor of JP1. It was right as there was a short queue. We then had noodles & dumplings for lunch.

While riding on the escalator, we overheard a casual conversation between two elderly ladies standing behind us. One of them thought that recession or unemployment seemed to be an illusion, judging from the presence of heavy shopping traffic.

In my mind, I was thinking that the eager holiday shoppers were merely responding to Senior Minister Gok Chok Tong's recent exhortation to spend in order to keep the economy going.

On the other hand, it could also be that all the shoppers we saw at the mall were not the ones at the chopping end of the axe, so to speak.

After spending about 3 hours at the mall, my wife & I did not purchase anything as our objective was merely window shopping, as usual.

We had learned to purchase only what we need.

Impulse buying isn't our cup of tea.

For both of us, window shopping is a good past time, in addition to opening up our minds & stretching our leg muscles.

HOW TO LIVE & SEE THE BRIGHTER COLOURS OF YOUR MIND

Here's a link to an interesting article by a clinical psychologist & counsellor, who shares fifteen pointers & tips to help you live & see the brighter colours of your mind.

Here's the gist - my interpretation:

1) Get into the habit of introspection;
2) Live in the Now!
3) Relax & unwind;
4) Meditate;
5) Accept yourself;
6) Be a part of the community;
7) Stay in touch with friends;
8) Feel oneness with Mother Nature;
9) Do something creative;
10) Step it up with physical exercises;
11) Feed your mind with a balanced diet;
12) Sleep well;
13) Socialise;
14) Have a support network;
15) Value yourself;

The foregoing is definitely excellent & pragmatic advice for today's hard-pressed generation.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"As you embrace the present & become one with it, & merge with it, you will experience a fire, a glow, a sparkle of ecstasy throbbing in every sentient being. As you begin to experience this exultation of spirit in everything that is alive, as you become intimate with it, joy will be born within you, & you will drop the terrible burdens of defensiveness, resentment, & hurtfulness... then you will become lighthearted, carefree, joyous, & free."

~ Deepak Chopra, a medical doctor & contemporary writer on spirituality, synchronicity, holistic integrative medicine;

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM 'THE GUARDIAN'

Last night, I had rewatched the adventure movie, 'The Guardian', starring Kevin Cosner & Ashton Kutcher, on StarHub cable television.

It had a poignant story fully dedicated to the brave men & women of the United States Coast Guard - "so others may live".

In the movie, two principal characters with troubled past, Kevin, as legendary & veteran rescue swimmer turned instructor, Ben Randall, & Ashton, as a cocky newcomer, also swimming champion, Jake Fischer, made an eventful connection with each other while working with the US Coast Guard.

To his chagrin, the latter had to learn about love, loss, self-sacrifice the hard way from the instructor.

The most emotional & yet pertinent question the rescue swimmers had to face in the course of their work on the high seas was:

How Do You Decide Who Lives Or Who Dies?

The beautiful answer came from one of the dialog lines by Ben:

"Save the ones you can Jake. The rest, you've got to let go."

This was further echoed by Ben as he instructed the recruits:

"I don't care who you are, where you're from, or where you're going. I care about one thing, & one thing only. That is the future victims that you will be asked to save. If I think that you will fail them. Then I will fail you. Understood?"

In fact, I find it really heart warming to learn from the following conversation as Jake complained to his lady colleagues about having a hard time with the instructor:

Jake: "You don't want to hear about my day".

Emily (played by Melissa Sagemiller): "Yeah, I do".

Jake: "Man, this guy Randall, you know, it doesn't matter what I do. It's just not good enough".

Emily: "Maybe he's just trying to push you to be better. We teachers do that to the ones we believe in".

Jake: "No, it's personal with me. He's knows that I'm better then he was. I mean, today I broke every one of his records. I owned them all".

Maggie (played by Bonnie Bramlett): "Not all of them. There's one record you won't break . . ."

(while showing a photo from the wall)

"This is 'The Aegis'. Medical ship. Caught on fire. It was a nightmare; people burning in their beds. And Ben Randall got every one of those people out of there, except for this one guy. And right when the ship started to go down, he reaches down & grabs this guy. He's hanging from the cable with this man's life in his hands, & the winch jams. It's twenty minutes to the base. The man's screaming, but Ben looks him dead in the eye, & do you know what he said? He said "I won't let go."

Emily: "What happened?"

Maggie: "Dislocated his shoulder, tore every tendon in his hand, but he didn't let go. Twenty minutes, just fingertips. You break that record, & you give me a call."

Jake was more or less dumbfounded.

He eventually had to learn about the harsh realities of self-sacrifice & risking everything, particulalry after learning that his instructor/mentor - who had specifically taught him to honour his own gift - had lost his life in the high seas, after a spectacular rescue attempt towards the tail end of the movie.

To me, I thought that the ending dialog of the movie was great to close the story of the movie:

Jake [via a voice-over]: "The Coast Guard conducted the largest search & rescue missions for a single man in its history, but the body of Senior Chief Ben Randall was never found. What makes a legend? Is it what someone did while they were alive? Or how they're remembered after they're gone? Some people actually believe Senior Chief made the swim to the Aleutian Islands, that he's standing on a distant beach somewhere with a fishing pole in his hand. But I found my answer a couple of weeks later."

[As Jake pulled a drowning victim from the high seas into the rescue helicopter]

Drowning Victim: "Where is he?"

Jake: "Huh? There's nobody else out there, man".

Drowning Victim: "No, he was there! He was with me the whole time! He said he would hold on till help arrived. He never let go!"

Jake [again via his voice-over]: "There is a legend of a man who lives beneath the sea. He is a fisher of men, a last hope for all those who've been left behind. He is known as the Guardian."

So, in a nut shell, these are the valuable lessons from the movie, at least for me:

- honour our natural gifts or talents;

- learn to let go;

- do whatever we can with the resources we have;

- the most important person to keep alive is actually ourself;

- sometimes, we have to face the demons of our past in order to become heroes on our own terms;


- ordinary men & women can lead extraordinary lives as long as all of us have strong convictions in whatever we do;

- we can't save or help the whole world, but we certainly can save or help those we cared the most or who are within our reach;

THE CHEAPEST & MOST POWERFUL WAY TO STRETCH YOUR MIND

In his classic book, 'Paradigms: Business of Discovering the Future', which I had read during the late eighties, corporate strategist/futurist Joel Arthur Barker' wrote in the Afterword:

"The cheapest most powerful way to stretch your paradigms & improve your strategic exploration skills is to read."

Since then, I have never forgotten this interesting quotation, & as a matter of fact, I have always used it to inspire my reading pursuits.

In contrast, I also recall another interesting quotation from the great scientist of all times, Albert Einstein:

"Any man who reads too much & uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking."

For me, this explains why I always treat reading as a thinking process, not a regurgitating process of facts.

That's to say, when I read, I read actively.

I always probe the author to seek a better understanding of what he talks about in the book.

I always respond to the author by asking a series of questions, using:

'what?', 'who?', 'where?', 'when?', 'which?', 'why?', 'how?', 'how far?', 'how frequent?', 'to what extent?', ' 'how come? etc.

If there are sectional headings to passages in the pages of the book, I often like to convert them, mentally of course, into questions first to help guide my reading exploration.

With formulated questions in my mind, I can go way-finding at high speeds by putting my mind into automatic search mode - for the appropriate answers to my questions.

Just imagine Tomahawk missiles searching for their pre-progammed targets, &/or US NAVY seal teams operating & navigating in enemy territory!

By the way, science calls this the Reticular Activating System (RAS) at work!

[The RAS is the natural goal-seeking mechanism inside our heads, in addition to serving as other important functions, like surviving information overload.]

With the aid of my favourite orange-coloured marker - fine tip on one side; fat tip on the other - I often make marginal annotations. That's to say, I write my personal notes in the margins - with the fine tip - as well as highlight key phrases - with the fat tip.

I like to equate this activity as having an intellectual intercourse with the author.

Naturally, before I read a book, I always do a quick scan or skim, depending on the nature of the book. This helps to make my reading a breeze because I only read what I need.

Therefore, by pre-reading or doing a survey, I know where to read in the book. In a nut shell, this is putting Pareto's Law to work.

Generally, I treat my reading approach as a prospecting exercise - searching for hidden gold, so to speak.

While reading, I also listen to my gut feel.

'What does this mean to me?', 'what's the connection to my work or my life?', 'what's missing here?' 'where's the gap to what I already know?', 'where does this lead to?', 'why is the author talking like this or that?', 'which part is more useful?', 'is it true?', 'what can L learn?'.

More importantly, how to apply what I am reading?

Reading is one thing, & so is thinking for that matter, but adaptation & application in one's own life from the reading & thinking is far more important, especially when one wants to create meaningful results in one's life.

The return of investment in reading comes from the personal application. Then, only one truly knows what works & what doesn't.

In fact, adaptation & application take a lot of thinking too in the planning, because one needs to dovetail properly the stuff to meet one's particular expectations, goals, circumstances &/or interests.

Personal application sometimes requires a trial & error approach. Also, it takes time besides a diligent effort on one's part.

It also requires innovation - finding new ways to use the stuff from the book.

At this juncture, I like to point out that oftentimes I extract & copy the marginal annotations into my scratchpad for further deliberation prior to implementation.

Sometimes, I also transfer them into an idea map using my MindManager Pro or SmartDraw, depending on the nature & complexity of the subject.

An idea map, graphically illustrated for my purpose, allows me to see the big picture at one glance. It somehow makes it much easier & also quicker for me to explore 'what's next?', 'where does this or that lead to?', 'what avenue does this open up or even close down for me?' 'what else is there to think about?'.

With an idea map, one can also explore more indepth with questions like 'what's positive here?', 'what's negative here?', 'what's interesting here?', especially when one needs to do a book review, like what I do for Amazon & in my weblog.

Come to think about it, questions are powerful triggers.

Let's say your reaction to something from the book is 'so what?'. A sort of cynical response. Most people will probably just stop here for good.

You don't stop there, but proceed further by asking 'what's next for me?', 'what's good & new for me?', 'what if I do this or that'?

In other words, you put your mind into thinking mode. So , your 'passive response' becomes an 'active response', so to speak.

Questions actually challenge your mind.

From my personal experience, questions always lead you to what you need to read in the first place. They eventually lead you to find the answers that matter most in your life.

Sometimes, in the process of reading a lot of stuff, one bounds to encounter some stuff that may challenge one's beliefs &/or assumptions. Or, contradicts one's usual way of looking at the world.

For example, I had read, for the first time, from a health & welnness expert, about the three inherent 'brains' inside our body, other than the original 'triune' brain configuration of Dr Paul Maclean.

He was talking about one 'brain' in our heads; another 'brain' in our hearts, & one last 'brain' in our stomach - which apparently controls our gut feel.

They took me quite a while to sink in my mind. They actually make sense.

On another occasion, & for the first time too, I had read about the 'Theory of Dissipative Structures' from Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine, especially its apt analogy to brain functions, it drove me bonkers. I only managed to understand it better after a long while.

From my personal perspective, contradictions & discombobulations can always drive our minds into cognitive dissonance. But many experts contend that, if we can embrace cognitive dissonance &/or use it as a powerful lever to push ourselves up into the stretch zone & out of the comfort zone, we can function more effectively & flexibly.

Management guru Margaret Wheatley once said that, acknowledging - & thinking about -information that disconfirm what we already know or believe often can help us to become more alive & adaptable to change.

To sum up this post, & to make your reading pays well, just think of the following keywords:

- Survey;
- Respond;
- Prospect;
- Annotate;
- Question;
- Listen;
- Think;
- Apply;
- Adapt;
- Innovate;
- Lead;

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

"Companies die because their managers focus on the economic activity of producing goods & services, & they forget that their organisation's true nature is that of a community of humans."

~ Arie de Geus, corporate strategist & author of 'The Living Company: Habits for Survival in a Turbulent Business Environment' (1997);

[In his book, Arie explains why so many companies die early, & provides the key to corporate longevity. When the usual lifespan of a company is 12.5 years, & of a multinational, 40 years, how have some companies survived for centuries? As the former head of strategic planning for Royal Dutch Shell, de Geus knows that the answer is people more than financial assets.]

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"One-half of life is luck; the other half is discipline — & that's the important half, for without discipline you wouldn't know what to do with luck."

~ Carl Zuckmayer, 1896 – 1977, German writer & playwright;

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

OLD & HAPPY? IT'S A MATTER OF ATTITUDE

This post has been triggered after reading an interesting blog post by Lee Drutman in the Miller-McCure online magazine on 'Turning Research into Solutions'. Here's the link.

What follows is a quick sampling of apt quotations from well-known celebrities, whose attitude towards old age is fascinating:

"It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."

~ Woody Allen, actor & movie director;

"I'm very pleased to be here. Let's face it, at my age I'm very pleased to be anywhere."

~ George Burns, comedian;

"Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternatives."

~ Maurice Chevalier, French actor;

"The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly & lie about your age."

~ Lucille Ball, comedian;

"You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake."

~ Bob Hope, comedian;

"Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

~ Jack Benny, comedian;

"Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens."

~ Elvis Presley, singer;

"You know you're getting old when all the names in your black book have MD after them."

~ Harrison Ford, actor;

"Gray hair is God's graffiti."

~ Bill Cosby, comedian;

"A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams."

~John Barrymore, actor;

"It's sad to grow old, but nice to ripen."

~Brigitte Bardot, French actress & activist;

"I don't know how you feel about old age... but in my case I didn't even see it coming. It hit me from the rear."

~ Phyllis Diller, comedian;

"Talk about getting old. I was getting dressed and a peeping tom looked in the window, took a look and pulled down the shade."

~ Joan Rivers, comedian & talk-show host;

"I do wish I could tell you my age but it's impossible. It keeps changing all the time."

~ Greer Garson, actress;

"Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age."

~ Jeanne Moreau, French actress;

"There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap into this source, you will truly have defeated age."

~ Sophia Loren, actress;

"I will never give in to old age until I become old. And I'm not old yet."

~ Tina Turner, singer & performer;

"You can only perceive real beauty on a person as they get older."

~ Anouk Aimee, French actress;

"Getting older is no problem. You just have to live long enough."

~ Groucho Marx, comedian & actor;

"Grandchildren don't make a man feel old; it's the knowledge that he's married to a grandmother."

~ G. Norman Collie;

"Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are."

~ Muhammad Ali;

"The older you get the stronger the wind gets - and it's always in your face."

~ Jack Nicklaus, professional golfer;

"Just remember, once you're over the hill you begin to pick up speed."

~ Charles Schultz, cartoonist;

"What makes old age hard to bear is not the failing of one's faculties, mental & physical, but the burden of one's memories."

~ W Somerset Maugham, novelist;

“Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re abroad, there’s nothing you can do.”

~ Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel;

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice.”


~ Philippians 4:7-9 (New International Version);

THE KEYS TO HEALTHY AGING

Serendipitously, I ran into the debut weblog of Dr Jack Hanson - 'Dr Jack Hanson's Guide to Successful Aging'. Here's the link.

We have struck a conversation which led me to his publication entitled '365 Ways: Retiree's Resource Guide for Productive Lifestyles'. It was dated twelve years ago, but through the Amazon online reader, I have managed to extract some interesting stuff, as follows:

The Keys to Healthy Aging:

1) Meaningful Involvement:

- being a productive citizen;
- being busy;
- community involvement;
- volunteering;
- continuing to travel;
- experiencing new things;

2) Positive Mental Attitude:

- optimism & hope;
- healthy self-image;
- mental & physical health;
- being happy;
- being joyful;
- keeping an active mind;
- self-discipline;
- being grateful for every day;

3) Helping Others:

- having friends;
- caring about others;
- interest in others;
- kindness toward others;
- being with family;
- concern for those with less;
- contributing to community;

In his publication, he has identified 7 principal areas in which all silver-haired heroes can continue to play major roles in their lives, as well as in changing the world & helping others:

1) Education: Teaching & Learning;
2) Employment: Paid Work;
3) Competitive Sports & Fitness;
4) Volunteering;
5) Political Action & Advocacy;
6) Leisure & Hobbies;
7) Travel & Alternative Tourism;

Come to think of it, we have a lot of good stuff to do to keep ourselves busy throughout our senior years:

keeping fit, meeting friends, gardening, helping grand kids, going on holidays, using our skills, penning our experiences, & joining courses, just to name a few of the major stuff.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A GATHERING OF EAGLES

On last Saturday evening, my wife & I, together with other members of the informal so-called 'The Wednesday Club', plus my gym buddy, Yeo & his wife, Betty, were invited to a simple get-together party at the large air-conditioned One Tree Hill residence of our mutual couple-friends, James Kwok & his wife, Sofia.

Others presented at the party were mostly friends & relatives of the loving couple.

To the delight of everyone, free-flowing wine & appetising finger food, e.g. shreds of duck meat on bread toast, strips of beef steak with freshly sliced mango in a spoon, all freshly concocted by a young, up & coming chef, who happened to be the son of Sofia's sister-in-law, Liz, from Canada, who was also present. His father, who was not present, is apparently one of the renowned top cooks in Canada.

Actually, all of us were caught by surprise as the party was quietly meant to be the first anniversary of the marriage of James & Sophia.

As usual, our jovial Bosco from 'The Wednesday Club', led the principal champagne toast for the 'wisdom' couple, just after the side toast to our young chef.

Incidentally, James is a research scientist with F&N Group, & Sophia is a regional marketing manager for fragrances with an European firm.

So, conveniently, Bosco's definition for them as the 'wisdom' couple' was also such that they had the 'wisdom' to invite all of us to their party.

I called the party a gathering of eagles.

Readers will know why as soon as you continue to read what follows, starting with members of 'The Wednesday Club'.

Bosco is a forensics scientist & an adjunct professor with the Health Sciences Authority (HSA). His wife, Alice, who was also present, is a real estate agent. Both had only recently become grand parents & unwittingly reluctant weekend babysitters.

Gek Wee, still looking radiant in her second cycle, came without her husband, known to us as S T, who was out-of-town in Australia. Both had retired not too long ago as forensics experts from HSA. She apparently has found a way to sustain her youthfulness by practising yoga & playing bridge, in addition to mahjong.

It is pertinent for me to say that both S T & Bosco were university mates in UK. They are in fact the original prime movers of 'The Wednesday Club' as they have continued their pub sessions back in Singapore, especially on almost every Wednesday night.

Jeff, a retired accountant with his wife, Betty, a full-time house-wife as well as baby-sitter to their second grand daughter, Gwen, on working days. The child is the first from their second son.

Jeff was the one who had invited me & Catherine to join the informal club during the nineties. Incidentally, Catherine & I had met Jeff & Betty while travelling in Turkey on holidays during the late eighties.

Now, those outside 'The Wednesday Club':

My gym buddy, Yeo, running his own electrical engineering consultancy, & his wife, Betty, who also helps him in his business;

Pikul, a single lady professional from Thailand, & a close family friend of James & Sophia. She currently stays & works in Singapore as a marketing manager; she was the one who had prepared the spicy beef salad for the party;

Yu, nicknamed 'Old Yu', a retired system integrator, & a good friend of James, from their university days at Cornell University;

There was also a young Vietnamese gentleman working in Singapore as a private banker with UBS group. Unfortunately, I couldn't recall his name, but I certainly could remember his ramblings about the global financial meltdown, from the perspective of a private banker.

There were a few others, definitely working professionals & naturally younger than those in 'The Wednesday Club', who were friends of James & Sophia. Likewise, to my dismay, I couldn't recall their names. I guess you can blame it on my senior moments during the introduction.

Bosco was absolutely right to say that it was always good to have close friends around to celebrate together on such a wonderful occasion.

The joke of the evening, initiated by Jeff, was that the young chef, still a bachelor, was game as a take-home chef. Gek Wee jokingly made her bid, while Alice asked Liz whether she had another son with the same credentials. We all had a good laugh.

Once again, best wishes to the 'wisdom' couple, James & Sophia!

ZOOMING IN & ZOOMING OUT OF YOUR ATTENTIONAL FOCUS

If you had ever played with a camera or camcorder, or worked on a computer, you should know what "zooming in" & "zooming out" are all about.

In a nutshell, "zooming in" is taking a close-up view of a scene or something, while "zooming out" is, in contrast, taking a distant view.

Operationally, there are the built-in electro-mechanical features on a camera or camcorder, or as an ancillary part of the computer software.

In this post, I am talking about "zooming in" & "zooming out" from a different perspective. I am talking about them as part of our survival repertoire or life skills.

When we are "zooming in" on to a situation or something, we are taking up a micro view of it. A more detailed view, to be more precise. We are then looking at it very closely.

Our immediate attention is thus focused on the situation or something. It is often intense.

Another phrase to describe this process is "close examination", like a CSI guy looking for minute clues at the crime scene.

In scientific terms, in "zooming in", we are using only the focal vision of our eyes.

When we are "zoming out" from a situation or something, we are taking a macro view. A broad overall perspective, to be precise. We are then looking at it from a bird's eye, so to speak.

Our immediate attention is often diffused over a larger area of view, like a wild game hunter scanning the horizon for his hidden game. The attention is less intense &/or focused.

In a way, we can describe it as an helicopter view, where our objective is to see the entire forest from the trees.

In scientific terms, in "zooming out", we are using both the focal vision as well as the peripheral vision of our eyes.

Science tells us that peripheral vision allows us to detect & capture motion very quickly from the corner of our eyes.

Interestingly, if you are familiar with random dot stereograms or better known as those fancy posters with 3D illusions, you need to zoom out in order to see the hidden pictures.

That's to say, you need to adopt "soft eyes", a sort of very relaxed gaze.

With a "zooming out" perspective, our eyes can even detect & capture a flickering light at night from long distances.

Readers may recall innovation strategist Wayne Burkan, writing in his wonderful, 'Wide Angle Vision', uses the term "splatter vision" to describe such a phenomenon.

According to him, it's an ancient technique practised by North American natives in hunting their game.

Today, "splatter vision" is taught to & practised by Secret Service agents, FBI agents, police detectives, army snipers, fighter pilots, bird watchers & wild game hunters.

I understand that the ability to "zooming in" & "zooming out" of a situation is critical to our survival.

From my personal perspective, "zooming in" allows me to get into the crux of the situation or problem. Upon "close examination", I can get into the bottom of the situation or problem, by painstakingly searching for underlying issues.

By the way, business strategy guru Henry Mintzberg has designated it as "seeing below" from the standpoint of strategic thinking.

In engineering, where I had been trained as an engineer, it's called "root cause analysis".

In contrast, "zooming out" allows me to get away from the situation or problem so that I can adopt a detached view, & embrace a broader viewpoint.

A big picture, so to speak, which also enables me to explore more pertinent issues which may seem to be remotely connected to the situation or problem at hand, but which may likely to have implications or ramifications in one way or another.

I reckon, in tactical terms, one can easily make a quick, broad generalisation while "zooming out", & then go for a sober, critcal analysis while "zooming in".

A few days ago, I had read an interesting analogy about "zooming in" & "zooming out" in a blog or maybe an article.

According to the blog or article, champion chess players - Gary Kasparov comes quickly to my mind -possess this "zooming in" & zooming out" ability:

- they can zoom in on a large number of remembered chess moves from a lifetime inventory of game experiences in order to figure out the next logical move; Gary Kasparov is reportedly able to figure out 2 to 3 chess moves ahead in a second - please don't ask me how it is known, as I had only read about it;

- they can zoom out to pursue a strategic goal to quickly outwit & out-manoeuvre the rival, which requires being able to recognise emerging patterns with very little data;

I don't play chess, but I certainly wish I can learn to master these two processes of champion chess players.

For me, "zooming in" & "zooming out" in action reflects our mental flexibility & agility.

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"You cannot afford to wait for perfect conditions. Goal setting is often a matter of balancing timing against available resources. Opportunities are easily lost while waiting for perfect conditions."

~ Gary Ryan Blair, The GoalGuy, also author of 'Mind Munchies : A Delicious Assortment of Brain Snacks!';

WIT OR WISDOM?

I Tried to Teach My Child with Books;

He Gave Me Only Puzzled Looks.

I Tried to Teach My Child with Words;

They Passed Him by Often Unheard.

Despairingly, I Turned Aside;"How Shall I Teach this Child," I cried?

Into My Hand He Put the Key,

"Come," He Said, "Play with Me."

~ Author Unknown;

Interestingly:

"For a small child there is no division between playing & learning; between the things he or she does 'just for fun' & things that are 'educational.' The child learns while living & any part of living that is enjoyable is also play."

~ Dr Penelope Leach, British psychologist who writes extensively on parenting issues from a child development perspective; her best-known book is 'Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age Five' (1977);

THE SLACKER MENTALITY

I have stumbled upon an interesting book on Amazon, entitled 'The 5 Habits of Highly Successful Slackers', & written by a self-declared, full-time dedicated slacker, K P Springfield.

With the help of the Amazon online reader, I have managed to figure out some of the "strategy" stuff, which I have read with amusement.

By the way, for me, a "slacker" is someone who is adept at loafing around in the office, doing as little work as possible as far as he or she is concerned, & yet still able to show to management that he is doing real work.

In Singapore, especially in local colloquial terms, particularly the Hokkien dialect, such an activity is often described as "chiat zua" or "eating snakes".

The author has offered 5 "strategies", as I interpret them:

1) Create an image or aura of a hardworking & dedicated employee while you're actually loafing around in the workplace; in the corporate world, it isn't what you actually do, but what others think you do which makes the difference;

2) Adopt a "whatever attitude" so as stay emotionally immune to any problems, setbacks or troubles that are often, in your view, the end results of moronic decisions from management;

3) Embrace congeniality in the workplace - be friendly, easy to manage by your supervisors, well-liked & get along with practically everybody around you; in corporate lingo, we say, be a good team layer;

4) Use procrastination as a psychological tactic, in such a way that you produce the minimum results absolutely necessary to please management, & preferably at the last minute so as to buy more leisure time for yourself;

5) Keep a low profile, such that management cannot detect you whenever you are loafing around;

The author obviously advocates "slackism" which he describes as "the policy or practice of advancing one's available leisure time at the financial & productivity cost of a company".

Are you a slacker? Definitely, not for me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"I may have no choice in the misfortunes that life chooses to inflict on me. But I do have a choice in responding to these misfortunes positively or negatively. To a certain degree, my happiness is within my control."

~ Dr Lee Wei Ling, Director of the Singapore National Neuroscience Institute, writing in today's issue of 'The Sunday Times';

EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED TO EVERYTHING ELSE

Whenever I read a book, my curious mind often automatically - instinctively? - goes into a deliberate search mode - finding similar things I have read about in other books or drawing from my prior experiences.

That's why when I review a book, I just can't help myself making a lot of rampant associations from elsewhere with the stuff I am reading &/or reviewing about.

First, a little bit of preamble.

Reading is essentially thinking, even though they may seem to be distinctive activities.

While reading I always probe for understanding. Question the author, so to speak. What's the the author talking about here? What's the connection?

For me, making sense of my reading is actually making associations so as to make better sense of what I am reading about. To enhance a smoother & more meaningful understanding, so to speak.

The word "bisociation" suddenly comes to my mind.

This word was coined by Arthur Koestler, who wrote the classic, the 'Act of Creation', during the sixties.

According to him, 'bisociation' is a common pattern in creative achievements in the arts, sciences & even humour.

In a nut shell, it's actually the act of perceiving a situation or an idea from the convergence or intersection, deliberately applied or otherwise, of two or more seemingly unrelated concepts.

At its simplest form, most experts agree that the creative thinking process can be described as the bisociation of two or maybe more, normally unrelated, concepts to produce a new idea.

Creativity guru Edward de bono describes it as "intertwining of many separate streams of thoughts", as part of his lateral thinking approach.

The way I see it, another creativity guru Michael Gelb has given it a different spin in his book, 'Thinking for a Change'. He calls it "synvergent thinking" - balancing two extremes, logic & imagination, reason & intuition, seriousness & fun.

It is generally concurred that such a phenomenon is not the domain of a select few, but intrinsic to all people.

Interestingly, in the book 'The Way We Think', the two authors, Gilles Fanconnier, a professor of cognitive science at the University of Santiago, & Mark Turner, a director of the Centre for Advanced Study in Behavioural Studies at Stanford University, describe the process of connecting two concepts to create new meaning as "conceptual blending".

They argue that "conceptual blending" is unique to the human species. That's to say, in a another way or the way I see it, it's an innate ability.

According to them, "conceptual blending" occurs or operates constantly without our awareness or below our level of consciousness.

Another word now comes to mind: juxtaposition.

It's a word, as I understand from my dictionary, which means side by side positioning to create a harmonious effect or result.

Isn't that "bisociation" in another sense?

I just can't help relating or connecting what I am thinking about in this post so far to the "intersection of ideas, concepts & culture" as envisaged by Frans Johansson in his wonderful book, 'The Medici Effect'.

According to the author, based on his so-called intersectional theory, established ideas often clash & combine with breakthrough insights from other fields, disciplines & culture, resulting in an explosion of totally new ideas.

In his book, he used the Renaissance era of history to drive home his point:

That illustrious & productive period of human history was driven by the powerful & influential Medici banking family, who funded brought together artists, artisans, painters, sculptors & even thinkers & scientists from many different cultures & disciplines to debate, discuss & discover new ideas in Florence, Italy, from the late 14th century to the early part of the 17th century.

Leonardo da vinci, Michelangelo & many others flourished during that period.

Futurist R Buckminster summed up best when he said "all things regardless of their dissimilarity can somehow be linked together, either in a physical , psychological or symbolic way".

That brings me to the famed "Synectics" method of creativity, developed by two maestros, William J J Gordon & George Prince, as a spinoff from their work at Arthur D Little Invention Design group during the sixties.

"Synectics", which means "bringing forth together of different things into an unified connection", operates on the principle that by using the mind's remarkable capacity to connect seemingly unrelated elements of thought, we can spark off new ideas.

One of the best techniques that has emerged from "synectics" is making forced associations, through the use of metaphors & analogies.

[In "Synectics", it involves 'Direct Analogy', 'Personal Analogy', 'Symbolic Analogy' & 'Fantasy Analogy'.

I suggest reading 'The Innovator's Handbook' by Vincent Nolan. Alternatively, you can try getting hold of 'Synectics: The Development of Creativity' & 'The Practice of Creativity' by the two mastros respectively.]

The "Synectics" analogy methodology has a close parallel in Edward de bono's "provoking insight" using random words.

Come to think of it, IDEO, dubbed by Fortune Magazine as "Innovation University" & lauded as the world's most celebrated design firm by Fast Company, has successfully blended a whole gamut of methodologies, work practices, cultures & infrastructures to help & design create enduring products for their clients.

Just imagine if you could replicate their real-world successes by combining market understanding (including technology), real-life frontline observations, anthropology of human users, brainstorming, collective wisdom of hot teams (comprising 10 different personnas), rapid prototyping & rapid visualisation processes.

In a nut shell, it's the deliberate cross-pollination & juxtaposition of ideas & insights from varied perspectives that form their unique innovation culture.

[I suggest reading Tom Kelly's two books, 'The Art of Innovation' & 'Ten Faces of Innovation'.]

Leonardo da vinci was absolutely right when he once said: "Everything is connected to everything else."

We all just got to learn how to see it.

So, how to go about it for you?

Frans Johansson, author of 'The Medici Effect' offers the following prerequisites:

- have a broad, all-rounded exposure;

- be curious about the world;

- have an open mind to new experiences;

- be prepared to accept diversity & risks of moving out of the comfort zone & making mistakes;

I like to throw in one good one, which I have learned from a strategy guru:

be prepared to embrace cognitive dissonance by learning to entertain &/or hold two or more contrasting thoughts in your mind, & yet able to function intellectually & flexibly;