Saturday, October 24, 2009

EINSTEIN'S PROBLEM SOLVING STRATEGIES

Here's the link to a belated quick guide, by Luciano Passuello of the Litemind weblog, illustrating reportedly Einstein's problem solving strategies, as follows:

1. Rephrase the Problem;

2. Expose and Challenge Assumptions;

3. Chunk Up;

4. Chunk Down;

5. Find Multiple Perspectives;

6. Use Effective Language Constructs;

7. Make It Engaging;

8. Reverse the Problem;

9. Gather Facts;

10. Problem-Solve Your Problem Statement;

IDEAS BUILD ON IDEAS

Last night, I sat down on the sofa to rewatch the sci-fi fantasy movie, 'Transformers', on StarHub cable television, after an extended period of surfing on the net.

In the nut shell, the movie was about an ancient struggle between two extra-terrestrial giants, the heroic Autobots (led by the wise Optimus Prime) & the evil Decepticons (commanded by the dreaded Megatron), far away on the planet of Cybertron, which eventually re-erupted on our planet Earth.

They were fighting over a mystical object, known as Allspark, the clue to which was held unwittingly by a young teenager, Sam (played by Shia LaBeouf).

Unknown to him, Sam had a guardian angel, actually an Autobot, called 'Bumble Bee', disguised or rather transformed in the form of a sports car, which Sam's father had bought as a first car for the son.

There was one segment in the movie which I thought was rather cute in some way. That was when Optimus Prime introduced Sam & his love interest (played by the vivacious Megan Fox) to the fellow Autobots, 'Ironhide', 'Jazz' & 'Ratchet'.

Part of the conversation went like this:

Optimus Prime: "My weapons specialist, Ironhide".

Ironhide: [drawing his huge guns] "You feeling lucky, punk?"

Optimus Prime: "Easy, Ironhide... "

Ironhide: [retracting his big guns] "Just kidding. I just wanted to show him my cannons".

Can you recall the origin of the funny line by 'Ironhide'?

In the old but classic Clint Eastwood movie, 'Dirty Harry', Detective Callahan had his big gun pointed at a robbery suspect, lying on the ground, with another gun sitting close by.

In his whispering voice, Detective Callahan said to the bad guy:

"You're probably asking yourself, did he fire six shots or only five. Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kind of lost track myself... You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do you punk?"

The suspect assessed his situation, went for the gun, & was blown away by Detective Callahan's .44 Magnum.

To me, the foregoing dialog in 'Transformers' is another example of 'Ideas build on Ideas'.

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"The act of arranging information is an act of insight."

~ Prof Edward Tufte, Yale University; also author of the classic, 'Envisioning Information';

Friday, October 23, 2009

THE INTRIGUING STORY OF THE INDIAN FARMER'S SMART DAUGHTER & HER TWO PEBBLES


I have stumbled upon this intriguing story on the net.

"Many years ago in a small Indian village, a farmer had the misfortune of owing a large sum of money to a village money- lender.

The moneylender, who was old and ugly, fancied the farmer's beautiful daughter. So he proposed a bargain. He said he would forgo the farmer's debt if he could marry his daughter.

Both the farmer and his daughter were horrified by the proposal. So the cunning money-lender suggested that they let providence decide the matter.

He told them that he would put a black pebble and a white pebble into an empty money bag. Then the girl would have to pick one pebble from the bag.

If she picked the black pebble, she would become his wife and her father's debt would be forgiven.

If she picked the white pebble she need not marry him and her father's debt would still be forgiven.

But if she refused to pick a pebble, her father would be thrown into jail.

They were standing on a pebble strewn path in the farmer's field. As they talked, the moneylender bent over to pick up two pebbles. As he picked them up, the sharp-eyed girl noticed that he had picked up two black pebbles and put them into the bag. He then asked the girl to pick a pebble from the bag.

Now, imagine you were standing in the field. What would you have done if you were the girl? If you had to advise her, what would you have told her?

Careful analysis would produce three possibilities:

1. The girl should refuse to take a pebble.

2. The girl should show that there were two black pebbles in the bag and expose the money-lender as a cheat.

3. The girl should pick a black pebble and sacrifice herself in order to save her father from his debt and imprisonment.

Take a moment to ponder over the story.

The above story is used with the hope that it will make us appreciate the difference between lateral and logical thinking. The girl's dilemma cannot be solved with traditional logical thinking. Think of the consequences if she chooses the above logical answers.

What would you recommend to the girl to do?

The girl put her hand into the moneybag and drew out a pebble. Without looking at it, she fumbled and let it fall onto the pebble-strewn path where it immediately became lost among all the other pebbles.

"Oh, how clumsy of me," she said. "But never mind, if you look into the bag for the one that is left, you will be able to tell which pebble I picked."

Since the remaining pebble is black, it must be assumed that she had picked the white one. And since the moneylender dared not admit his dishonesty, the girl changed what seemed an impossible situation into an extremely advantageous one."

Moral of the Story: Most complex problems do have a solution. It is only that we don't attempt to think powerfully, harness our creative ingenuity, and exercise our choice-making intelligently.

From my perspective, I thought this story would also be a great illustration of the art & discipline of strategic shifting.

Just as I have learned from turaround strategist Steven Feinberg, also author of the book, 'The Advantage Makers', the next time we are confronted by a problem, irrespective of its compelxity, just ask:

- what solution is looking for the problem we face?

- what is the anomaly here?

- what are we not supposed to notice here?

- what is obvious that is missing here?

- how can we take this situation & make it what it could be?

- what else should we do?

In a nut shell, questions direct our thinking.

THE ART & DISCIPLINE OF STRATEGIC SHIFTING: HOW TO SEE WHAT OTHERS MISS

Last night, I just picked out a book from my large stack of books next to my bed, prior to taking my slumber, which has been a personal habit of mine for years.

The book was 'The Advantage Makers: How Exceptional Leaders Win by Creating Opportunities Others Don't', by Steven Feinberg, a turnaround strategist who has spent more than three decades applying the study of human behaviour to performance efficacy.

The first chapter of the book, entitled 'How to Shift the Odds in Your Favour in the Best of Times and the Worst of Times', continued to grab my personal attention, especially with the following story:

"Hundreds of years ago, in medieval Austria, a small but determined army was trying desperately to hold on to its fortress against tremendous odds. For more than six months, the defenders had been surrounded by a hostile army, With no way to contact outside help to replenish their stocks, supplies had dwindled to a desperate level.

Only one cow and two bags of grain were left.

The fortress soldiers, wracked with fatigue and hunger, turned to their commander for guidance.

Expecting their leader to say the expected, "Ration the food for as long as we can hold out," they were astonished and perturbed when they received a different, radical reply.

"Kill the cow, stuff it with all the grain we have, and toss it over the walls when the next wave of attack ensues."

This seemed illogical, foolhardy, and dangerous.

During the next attack, they followed the unexpected order and heaved the grain-stuffed cow over the wall. Without a doubt, they anticipated a slow, anguish death by starvation. To this day we don't know why the soldiers complied.

But the commander had foreseen something that no one else had.

Confused by the bovine assault, several of the attackers took the cow back to their officer's tent. The attacking officer saw it for what it was - a signal of defiance from the fortress commander, as well as well as a message that his soldiers had the will to fight on. If they could afford to throw a cow stuffed with excess grain over the wall, he reasoned, they must have vast stores of supplies, enough to last the entire winter. he ordered an immediate retreat."

To paraphrase the author, this is a great example of applying the strategy of shifting focus to produce a novel solution.

The fortress commander stepped outside the logic of the battle and delivered an unexpected message.

The counter-intuitive, resoundingly clear message:

"We have plenty of supplies; prepare for a long battle."

Clearly, the competition didn't know he was up against an Advantage Maker, who was able to shift his vantage point 180 degrees to see opportunities, solutions and strategies others didn't even know existed.

Did I enjoy reading the book? Oh, Yes!

Are there any other goodies in the book? You bet!

I must say it's packed with new ideas, techniques, exercises, and checklists that will transform the way you view every business challenge... so you can find the winning solutions that are hidden in plain sight!

I often love to read - & also reread for inspiration - books of such a genre. My personal library is packed with such books.

[More information about the author, his book, & his 'Advantage Maker' methodology, can be found at his corporate website.]

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

"The only striking difference between experts and amateurs is the capability to deliberately practise."

~ K Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology, Florida State University;

[This wonderful insight resonates with what Albert Einstein once said:

"It's not that I'm so smart; it's just that I stay with the problems longer."]

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"You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters."

~ Saint Bernard of Clauvaux, (1090-1153); French abbot, writing in 'Epistle';

Thursday, October 22, 2009

THE LADY, OR THE TIGER?

Here's the link to an interesting short story, 'The Lady, or the Tiger?', by Frank Stockton (1834-1902).

'The Lady, or the Tiger?' begins with a description of a "semi-barbaric" king who ruled his kingdom with a heavy hand. For punishing criminals, he had built an arena featuring two doors.

The criminal must choose his own fate by selecting one of the two closed doors. Behind one door was a hungry tiger that would be ready to eat the prisoner alive. Behind the other door was a beautiful lady, hand-picked by the king, who would be married to the accused on the spot.

The people of the kingdom liked this system of justice, because the uncertainty of the situation was very entertaining.

I first came across this short story when I was reading the book,'Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World' by sociologist-turned-futurist Bob Johansen. I had reviewed this book in an earlier post.

In his book, the author had used the story to illustrate his innovative concept of dilemma flipping.

RANDOM SPOTLIGHT: ENJOY WINNING

If you had the opportunity to watch the latest animated Tiger Beer ad on televison under its 'Enjoy Winning' advertising campaign, I am sure you were impressed by the antics of several morphed characters originating from the first two contenders - two macho guys - for the ultimate prize.

So, the following static Tiger Beer ad posters at the city bus stops do not offer much justice to the television commercial.

Nonetheless, I hope that they would remind you to go & watch the dynamic morphing sequences on television, if you have not yet done so.





I must say that Tiger Beer certainly knows how to catch your eyeballs, & more importantly, to remind you to go for happy hours, particularly to spend 'Time for a Tiger'.

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“Watch, listen, and learn. You can’t know it all yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity.”

~ Donald Trump, CEO, Trump Organization;

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: IMPROVISATIONAL CREATIVITY

Last night, while watching the crime thriller, 'The Pelican Brief', on StarHub cable television, I was quite intrigued, not only by the intricate story plot, but I was also moved by the courage as well as ingenuity of the two principal characters, who were on the run from rogue government agents.

In a nut shell, the story was based on one of best selling author John Grisham's books, bearing the same title.

A young law student, Darby (played by Julia Roberts) had stumbled upon a conspiracy theory, following the assassination of two US Supreme Court judges.

When her boy friend, a law professor, was also assassinated, she began a perilous journey to put all the mystery pieces together, with the help of an inquisitive investigative reporter, Gray (played by Denzel Washington), who was also following his own lead separately.

Seemingly, now everybody in power wanted both of them dead, but they eventually succeeded in discovering that all the assassination plots led to a very powerful businessman, with links all the way to the Oval Office.

There was one particular episode in the thrilling movie, which I thought was a great lesson in personal creativity.

While on the run from unknown assassins, Gray met up with his newspaper boss, Smith (played by John Lithgow) to explore various options to stay alive till the whole matter was resolved.

That was when Gray said he would go to Plan B, if Plan A didn't work.

Smith questioned Gray about Plan B, to which Gray responded that he would then go to Plan C, if Plan B didn't work.

When asked about Plan C, Gray simply replied he didn't know what he would do yet.

From one perspective, I was naturally amused by the apparently comical dialogue between the two, but, on the other hand, I also realised that there was a good lesson to be learned.

A quick lesson in improvisational or improv creativity.

To stay operative in today's turbulent, rapidly-changing world, one should constantly think of & explore as many alternatives as possible to a problem situation or challenging issue.

In the real world, there are always controllable variables - & more importantly, unanticipated variables - inherent in every problem or challenging situation.

Our eyes & ears need to be wide open so as to stay constantly alert to the intellectual maze of incoming information.

To interpret lessons from success coach Anthony Robbins, long term survival is a continuous & never ending improvement process.

Just like performance artists &/or jazz musicians who often continuously explore improv techniques to create new forms of theatrical &/or musical expressions to stay ahead of the game.

Although improvisational creativity involves simultaneously & spontaneously identifying new challenges & generating responses with little or no time to prepare, we can always rely on our domain expertise to increase our personal creativeness, as long as we are prepared to approach every problem situation or challenging issue with novelty - i.e. fresh eyes - & curiosity.

Naturally, a heavy dose of personal confidence helps.

In reality, improv creativity is essentially "thinking on your feet". That's to say, your "thinking cap" is switched on 24/7.

My good friend, Dilip Mukerjea, likes to call it "thinking in real time".

I reckon the important things to do are:

- be prepared to tackle challenges head on;
- be alert to incoming information;
- be fully aware of the moment;
- stay cool;
- be ready to converge environmental assessment, information gathering, analysis, evaluation, solution finding, & execution to achieve success;
- be prepared to improvise solutions, as & when required by extenuating circumstances;


With deliberate practice, a diligent application of improv techniques to find better alternatives can be fine-tuned into a powerful personal habit, leading to personal mastery.

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“A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

~ Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

RANDOM SPOTLIGHT: MAKE YOUR DAY

I often hold this theory, that the intended marketing messages from bus ads serve two purposes: one, the hard sell, to advertise the products or services of the advertisers, & the other, the soft sell, to make your day.

Thus, to evoke your emotions & passions to learn, to grow, to be better & to live life to the fullest!

Here's a quick sampling.

Or is it just a coincidence?










RANDOM SPOTLIGHT: EIGHTEENCHEFS

As a young teenager growing up in Yong Peng, Johor, Malaysia, I was often glued to the Rediffusion broadcasts coming out of a small wooden speaker box sitting on a table at one corner of the house. In those days, that was our version of so-called cable entertainment available only on subscription.

Interestingly, Rediffusion offered a very limited choice for listeners: a two-station selector button; one for Chinese programs, & the other for English programs.

My favourites from Rediffusion broadcasts were those wonderful tall tales from Cantonese master storyteller, Lee Dai Soh (literally translated as 'Big Fool Lee') at around 6pm. He could tell enchanting tales - just imagine that I had to rely on my vivid imagination - about the Shaolin Temple, The Water Margin, The 18 Immortals (or Sat Pat Loh Hon' in Cantonese), among many others.

[More information about Rediffusion can be found at this link. Also, more information about the late raconteur Lee Dai Soh can be found at this link.]

Yesterday afternoon, while window-shopping at the Tiong Bahru shopping plaza with my wife, I had stumbled upon one of the outlets belonging to local celebrity chef Benny Se Teo, reportedly the only Singaporean to be trained by also celebrity chef Jamie Oliver of London.

The umbrella zi-char restaurant outfit is known as 'EighteenChefs'.

When I first saw the eye-catching signboard, it quickly brought back sweet memories of vivid images of the '18 Immortals' (as well as the Hongkong sword-fighting movie, 'The Eighteen Bronzemen', starring Carter Wong, during the seventies) in some way.

The other three outlets are located in Yishun, Simei & Fusionopolis.




Since my wife & I already had our lunch earlier, we did not pop in to try their cuisine.

However, I read from the internet that the food served at their outlets was reasonably great. I will try it the next time I am down in Tiong Bahru.

[More information about the 'EighteenChefs' as well as the origin of the trade name, can be found at their corporate website.]

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“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

~ Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple;

RANDOM SPOTLIGHT: A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE


"True love does not come by finding the perfect person but by learning to see an imperfect person perfect!"

Again, it boils down to a matter of perspective!

I am confident that, if members of the Social Development Network (SDN), could just embrace this new perspective, their success rates at all the deliberate match-making endeavours would certainly go up several notches.

A world of possibilities is just a matter of perspective.

Why not get every SDN member to put on the foregoing polo shirt as a constant visual reminder?

Monday, October 19, 2009

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

~ Winston Churchill, British war-time Prime Minister;

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

What would I do if I had nothing to do?

MARKETING DEFINED

According to the Zyman Group, originally founded by marketing strategist Sergio Zyman, also author of 'The End of Marketing as We Know It':

- marketing is business, & as a result, must work across functions to direct & drive the growth agenda of your company;

- your role as a marketer is "to sell more stuff to more people more often for more money more efficiently";

Sunday, October 18, 2009

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"The power of love to change bodies is legendary, built into folklore, common sense, and everyday experience. Love moves the flesh, it pushes matter around... Throughout history, "tender loving care" has uniformly been recognized as a valuable element in healing."

~ Dr Larry Dossey, author of 'The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things: Fourteen Natural Steps to Health & Happiness';

TO FIGHT MEDIOCRITY, LEARN HOW TO BE EXTRAORDINARY

Here's the link to an appealing article, even though belated, from management consultant Cheryl Koh on 'To fight mediocrity, learn how to be extraordinary.'

A quick bullet list for readers:

- Take charge & be a leader;

- Set ambitious goals;

- Develop a strong support system & stay connected with others inside & outside the industry;

- Be ethical in all you do;

- Become a change insurgent;

- Be curious;

- Accomplish something positive every day;

- Don't be afraid to fail;

- Learn all your life;

- Celebrate your victories & learn to live out loud;

- Be generous with your time, your talent & your money;

- Do what you love & love what you do - you'll never do anything better;

RANDOM SPOTLIGHT: SPRUCING UP II

Further to my earlier post about sprucing up:

RANDOM SPOTLIGHT: SPRUCING UP


I read from the Straits Times reports that the owners of the older shopping malls along Orchard Road had pumped something like S$60 million to spruce up their building facades in recent months.


Even the trash cans are not spared.

Come to think of it, shouldn't we invest some of our discretionary income to spruce ourselves up, I mean, intellectually, mentally as well as physically?

PRAGMATIC INSIGHTS FROM THE EXPERTS

"First, you shape the vision of what the projected work of art will be. The vision, I stress, is no marvellous thing: it is the work's intellectual structure & aesthetic surface. It is a chip of the mind, a pleasing intellectual object. It is a glowing thing, a blurred thing of beauty... Many aspects of the work are still uncertain, of course; you know that. You know that if you proceed you will change things & learn things, that the form will grow under your hands & develop a new & richer lights. But that change will not alter the vision, or its deep structures; it will only enrich it."

~ Annie Dillard, 64, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, best known for her narrative fiction;

TODAY'S Q2P (QUESTIONS TO PONDER)

How would I play today if I know I could not play tomorrow?