Saturday, August 4, 2007


What the hell do I do?

What have I actually done?

Who will testify to it?

What evidence is there that my skills are state of the art?

What new things do I know?

Will my year end resume look different from last year's?


I got this out of my scratch pad & I still don't know where I got it in the first place. I could not even trace it on the net.

Nevertheless, it's an acronym for a very simple approach to problem solving:

C = clearly state the problem;

R = research the problem;

A = analyse the problem;

B = brainstorm with a mindmap;

B = brainstorm further, 1) by thinking laterally, 2) by using the SCAMPER technique, 3) by using the PO technique, 4) by conducting a gap analysis;

Y = yes or no to proceed further, by using the PMI technique;

D = Design or make an action plan;

A = And;

M = Make or carry out the action plan;

E = evaluate your progress;

[For the uninitiated, SCAMPER is an acronym conceived by Bob Eberle as a checklist for 'Substitute', 'Combine', 'Adapt', 'Modify', 'Put to Another Use', 'Eliminate', 'Reduce' or 'Reverse'; PO is just a simple two-letter word conceived (via extraction from hyPOthesis, POetry, proPOsal, supPOse) by Edward de bono to mean 'Provocative Operation', whereby one can use it to formulate a provocative statement, together with the use of a random word, to move thinking from an entrenched place to a new place, where fresh & original ideas may be found; PMI is another acronym conceived by Edward de bono for use as a checklist for considering 'What is Positive (+)?', What is Negative (-), What's Interesting?' with a particular issue or problem.]


"The smartest people will tell you that 19 out of every 20 ideas aren't good. But it's because they generated so many ideas that they're able to come up with a few exceptional ones."
(Alan Kay, computer scientist)

Friday, August 3, 2007


I often get my ideas when I am walking on the treadmill or exercising on the elliptical machine in the Singapore Sports Council gym near my home, where I will visit every morning from Mondays to Fridays with my wife.

In fact, I always take the opportunity to think through what I want to write in my webblogs during this time. A large chunk of my webblogs is usually written during the afternoons after my morning exercises.

Charles 'Chic' Thompson, author of the book entitled 'What a Great Idea!', had conducted a study on this subject.

According to him, most people get their creative sparks while doing the following tasks:

Counting down, the top ten 'idea-friendly' tasks:

10) while performing manual labour;

9) while listening to a church sermon;

8) on waking up in the middle of the night;

7) while exercising;

6) during pleasure reading;

5) during a boring meeting;

4) while falling asleep or waking up;

3) while commuting to work;

2) while taking a bath or shaving;

1) while sitting on the toilet bowl!


What's really out there?

What are the hidden opportunities?

What's worth implementing?

What needs to be done right away?


"Scientists have accumulated considerable evidence that our image of the future is a powerful motivating force & determines what we are motivated to learn & achieve...a person's image of
the future may be a better predictor of future attainment than his past performances."

(Paul Torrance)


Roger Firestien, who is also one of my favourite creativity gurus, shares these simple strategies for nurturing your creativity, with some of my notes:

1) Develop new habits: break your old habits; challenge your assumptions; think out of the box; look beyond & expand your perception;

2) Ask probing questions: ‘What else can I do?’; ‘How else can I do this?’; ‘What if...?’; ‘ How can I use something else that doesn’t fit with this?’

3) Be ready to catch new ideas as they come: always carry a note pad or pocket recorder;

4) Vary your daily routines: to work? to home? - doing this often will expose you to different stimuli;

5) Read widely: mainstream as well as fringe stuff to widen your mental horizon;

6) Network: make new friends &/or interact with people who are outside your domain;

7) Develop a support system: a personal library is definitely a good start;

8) Find quiet time & practise some relaxation sequences; add some Baroque, Classical &/or New Age music to enhance the experience!

9) Create a creative environment at work &/or at home: read my earlier posts regarding 'The Smart Place' & 'Guidelines for Setting Up a Brainstorming Lab';

10) Create healthy lifestyle: regular physical exercise is good for the brain!; also, stay away from junk food!;

11) Develop a sense of humour: this certainly will help you to see things in many different ways;

12) Be passionate in whatever you do: without passion, everything you do becomes mundane!;

Roger Firestien is the author of several books, audios, videos on creativity, which I had read, listened & watched during the nineties, namely,

- ‘Why Didn’t I Think of That?’
- ‘Leading on the Creative Edge’
- ‘From Basics to Breakthrough’, &
- 'Breakthrough: Getting Better Ideas'.

He is also a contributing author to two creativity research classics, namely,

- ‘Understanding & Recognising Creativity’ &
- ‘Nurturing & Developing Creativity’

which I also owned.


I had the following notes in one of my older scratch pads, but unfortunately I did not record the information source. All I know is that I had them with me for quite a long time.

Most likely they came from Edward de bono, the creativity guru who coined the term 'Lateral Thinking'.

I had often shared these notes with participants in my creativity workshop.

The notes are now put together to form what I would like to call ‘Thirteen Ways to be More Creative’:

1) Generate Alternatives:
don’t just look or get stuck at the best approach, but look for as many different approaches as possible; also, consider mutliple options;

2) Challenge Assumptions:
not only doing this activity, but also embrace multiple assumptions;

3) Suspend Judgement:
first, seek not to be right, but to be effective & then be right at the end; shift from the validity of a particular pattern to usefulness of the pattern in generating alternatives; also not to be too concerned with nature of the arrangement of information but with where it can lead you to;

4) Beware of Dominant Ideas:
understand & practise de bono’s First Law – an idea can never be the best arrangement of available information, & hence, there is always a need to search for a better way; to paraphrase Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, one of de bono's disciples, BVS > CVS (better view of situation is superior than current view of situation);

5) Break &/or Rearrange Patterns:
rearrange the information around the subject & put them together in a different or new way;

6) Reverse Viewpoint:
turn around or reverse?;

7) Create Analogies:
translate the problem into an analogy; develop the analogy & then translate back to see what happens; the application of the synectics methodology (conceived by William Gordon & George Prince) is definitely very useful here;

8) Shift Focus:
take a close look at your mental agenda – are you looking at ‘things’ or ‘attributes’?; consider your choice of attention area; also choice of entry point; ask yourself: what do you choose to look at? where do you direct your attention?;

9) Expose to Random Stimuli:
browsing &/or exploring the unknown - this is one of my favourite past-times; for me, Vivocity & the IMM in Jurong are excellent places for random stimuli!

10) Beware of Labels:
challenge word labels; establish new habits of thinking & doing without word labels; consider relabeling;

11) Restructure or Provoke Insight:
consider the level of abstraction in your thought process & make deliberate attempts to develop insights from the combinatory play of your thoughts;

12) Have an Open Mind:
apply the power of perception; if blocked by gap – construct a bridge?; if blocked by something in the way – remove obstacle?; if blocked by ‘nothing’ in the way – find a better way to look at the problem?

13) Reframe Problem:
instead of looking back at what you have, start looking at what can be used to move you forward;


According to the training video, 'Tapping into Your Creativity', produced by the American Management Association, & based on their survey research findings:

- among kids at 5 years old, 90% of them are creative;

- among kids at 7 years old, only 10% of them are creative;

- among the others from 8 to 45 years old, the percentage drops down to 2%;

Very depressing, isn't it?

Let's take a look at the characteristics of little kids (from my scratch pad):

- experience & express emotions freely;

- are creative & innovative;

- are physically active;

- constantly growing mentally & physically;

- will risk often;

- rest when their bodies tell them to;

- learn enthusiastically;

- dream & imagine;

- believe in the impossible;

- generally don't worry or feel guilty;

- are passionate;

- seek fun things to do;

- spontaneously jump from on interest to another;

- are curious;

- smile & laugh a lot;

So, if you want to be or to stay creative like little kids, there is still some hope for all of us: be child-like, but don't be childish!

The video also outlines the following mental blocks to creativity:

- self-censoring;

- lack of confidence;

- obsession with right answers;

- self-limiting beliefs;

- negative mental outlook;

It also provides some interesting guidelines to tap into your creativity:

- ask questions: What if...? What else...? Why not...?

- break habits;

- take risks;

- postpone judgement;

- make unlikely connections;

Good Luck!

Thursday, August 2, 2007


What do you really want?

What is the price?

Are you prepared to pay the price?


"It's not the big that eat the's the fast that eat the slow."

(Jason Jennings)


Innovate or Die : A Personal Perspective on the Art of Innovation
by Jack Matson

In reality, this book was an enhanced version of two earlier books, respectively entitled 'The Art of Innovation: Using Intelligent Fast Failure' & ‘How to Fail Successfully: A Bold Approach to Meeting Your Goals Through Intelligent Fast Failure’ by the same author, an award winning innovator. The latter books were originally published in 1991, with the earlier one by The Penn State University (The Leonard Center for Innovation & Enhancement of Engineering Education).

The books' core philosophy was based on the author's personal experiences in exploring creativity & innovation with engineering design students in his 'Failure 101' or ‘Intelligent Fast Failure’ courses at the university (first at the University of Houston, later at Penn State).

He had taught engineering students to unlearn years of practising risk aversion, stressing the connection between creativity & risk. He had encouraged them to realise that failure was essential in developing design skills & judgement.

In a nut shell, as I had understood it, ‘Intelligent Fast Failure’ was basically a fast learning process, using failure (results) as a springboard.

Instead of experimenting with only one project idea, students could have several project ideas to work on at the same time. If one would fail, they could modify or adjust it or quickly pick the next one to work on. This experimentation would accelerate the learning process, which would encourage the students to get through the failure results more quickly, before low confidence or low self esteem could set in. As a result, the students could reach the knowledge acquisition curve more quickly, where they would be able to find out what would work & what would not work.

His principal premise in the book was this: "No issue is more important to the engineer, or entrepreneur, than intelligent failure."

I had read the author’s books enthusiastically, especially during the early 90's, when I felt, as a mechanical engineer by training, I could relate readily to the author's teaching philosophy.

I also felt that the author's unique concept of experimenting with creativity, particularly in the field of engineering design, would empower me to go forward & experiment simultaneously with other aspects of my own chosen life pursuits - research, consultancy, training & development, coaching, networking, globe-trotting & personal hobbies.

I eventually moved on, with further inspirations from other authors/books, to establish a strategy consultancy business, run a newsletter as well as operate a small retail outlet in early 1992.

To this day, I still think that this is an excellent book about creativity & innovation in action.

I strongly recommend reading this book if you are serious about wanting to learn how to manage failure & to develop an appetite for risk in your life &/or your work. The book, generally written in a light-hearted manner, is packed with true-to-life examples, personal cases, & experiences of innovators excelling in the art of innovation on an organisational, civic or personal level.


[continue from Part I]

Another marvellous book comes quickly to mind when reading 'Failing Forward'.

It's Gerard Nierenberg's 'Doing It Right the First Time: A Short Guide to Learning from Your Most Memorable Errors, Mistakes & Blunders.'

The author's principal premise is this: 'We can reduce the number of errors we make - both in & out of life & the workplace.'

Henceforth, in whatever we do, it is always important to do it right the first time.

I am most impressed by the Error Awareness System in 'Doing It Right the First Time.'

It teaches readers how to increase their sensitivity & cut down on the errors they make & guard against those made by others that affect them. The author shows readers how to identify the causes of their errors; how to deal with them; & most importantly; how to prevent them from recurring.

Best of all, his book is also packed with real-life examples, discussion questions, checklists, & helpful exercises.

In contrast, I reckon 'Failing Forward' would be more appropriate towards a general audience, while 'Do It Right the First Time' would relate better to business & professional people.

Nevertheless, I strongly recommend reading both books.


Failing Forward: How to Make the Most of Your Mistakes
by John Maxwell

This is certainly a marvellous book to read! In fact, this is my first book from John C Maxwell's collection.

I agree with the author: "The difference between average people & achieving people is their PERCEPTION of & RESPONSE to FAILURE", although I am inclined to add that there are a few other equally important factors as well.

I have enjoyed reading - & reflecting upon - the many 'failing-forward' working principles as well as the self-diagnostic questions in the book.

Of course, I have also enjoyed reading about the inspiring real-life characters & their heart-warming examples of bouncing-back from apparent failure towards great success.

I really like the author's acronym of 'FORWARD.' It is as follows:

f = finalize your goal;
o = order your plans;
r = risk failing by taking action;
w = welcome mistakes;
a = advance based on character;
r = re-evaluate your progress continuously;
d = develop new strategies to succeed;

I would also like to mention that the final four chapters ('Avoid the Top Ten Reasons People Failure', 'The Little Difference between Failure & Success Makes a Big Difference', 'It’s What You Do After You Get Back Up That Counts', & 'Now You’re Ready to Fail Forward') are the most important.

[to be continued in Part II]


In order to develop & sustain your mental supremacy, I reckon you would need to have the following prerequisites:

Power of Perception:

- The ability to see the world you live in with open eyes as well as be fully aware of its surroundings;

Power of Memory:

- The ability to remember as well as organise your sensory experiences of interacting with the world for quick & easy recall;

Power of Association:

- The ability to think about, make association of as well as juxtapose your many memory experience, through analysis, comparing, contrasting & evaluating;

Power of Imagination:

- The ability to stretch your imagination while making interesting associations &/or innovative juxtapositions of your many memories, with the view to produce workable insights;

Power of Judgement:

- The ability to choose options from your workable insights, with the view of creating valuable ideas for further thought & action to be taken;

Power of Attention:

- The ability to focus & concentrate on one project or maybe two projects at a time, with the view of evaluating their feasibility & viability;

Power of Will:

- The ability to make the final decision & set out an action plan, as well as the will power to push the plan to work, quickly & vigorously;

Power of Interaction:

- The ability to communicate, interact & work with others in getting your final proposition to be accepted & eventually to be realised in the real world;

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


How good am I?

How good can I be?

How can I improve today?

What can I learn from my boss? my colleagues? my associates? my subordinates? my friends?

How can I apply what I have learned from them?


Playful Perception: Choosing How to Experience Your World
By Herbert Leff

This is an excellent companion to 'Everyday Wonders: Encounters with the Astonishing World Around Us' by Barry Evans & 'The Sense of Wonder' by Rachel Carlson.

In a nut shell, it is a field guide to exploring the world through a series of well-composed black & white photographs, with the objective of enhancing the fluidity of your perception as well as generating multiple perceptions from the same photograph or set of photographs.

Most readers should have learned to understand by now that perception affects our view of the world & we can use the power of perception to change the way we think, feel & do.

Trust me: Once you have read this timeless volume, you will be really inspired, and not only that, you will never be the same again in looking at the world around you.

For example, take a look at the old test of perception: Is the glass half empty or half full?


The Sense of Wonder
By Rachel Carlson

In continuation of my relentless search for better understanding of perceptual sensitivity & sensory acuity, I am very glad to be able to lay my hands on this wonderful book. It’s now a classic!

To me, I have found it to be an excellent companion to 'Everyday Wonders: Encountering with the Astonishing World Around Us', which I had already reviewed earlier.

In a nut shell, this is a beautiful guide for rediscovering the joy, excitement & mystery of the world we live it i.e. planet Earth. I love the inspiring essays & beautifully illustrated photographs.

Rachel Carson shares her vision of the natural world and the wonder it inspires. According to her, "A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us, that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood."

I full concur with what the author had written in this book. I would say that this insightful book will serve as a first step toward rediscovering that amazing sense of wonder within all of us.

Trust me: Once you have read this timeless volume, you will be really inspired, and not only that, you will never be the same again in looking at the world around you.


Everyday Wonders: Encounters With the Astonishing World Around Us
By Barry Evans

What I like about this book is that the author has transformed such commonplace concepts as gravity, water, & breath into fun-to-read adventures.

In 21 essays, each full of anecdotes & illustrations, the author explains remarkable everyday phenomena in simple, clear language. There are also interviews with some of the world's most brilliant scientists - Linus Pauling, Stephen Jay Gould, Edward Teller, Francis Crick - & dozens of mind boggling puzzles as well as insightful quotations.

What is the principal object of the author in creating all of the above?

In a nutshell, the author is just showing to all of us: how to be more aware of our own surroundings & how to play with our childhood sense of wonder.

In the author's own words: This book is about the present, because it's about awareness:

noticing, stopping, looking, heeding, remarking, observing, beholding, discerning, perceiving, asking, examining, probing, considering, pondering, weighing, appraising, studying...right now.

Over the years, I have come across only a handful of such unique books as continuation of my relentless search for better understanding of perceptual sensitivity & sensory acuity. I must say this one is one of the best books in the genre, because it is entertaining, stimulating and instructive! In fact, it has inspired me to create valuable learning experiences for participants in my creativity workshops.

Do you have the time to go and play? Come play with your childhood sense of wonder. Prepare to be astonished, to learn with this wonderful book!

There are two other good books that I would recommend to readers, in conjunction with this one:

- The Sense of Wonder, by Rachel Carson;
- Playful Perception: Choosing How to Experience Your World, by Herbert Leff;


"How you perceive any situation has no bearing on the fact that an outcome will manifest & be experienced as a result. The only determining factor is what you will experience as a result of that perception."

(Author Unknown)

Monday, July 30, 2007


The yesterday issue of the 'Sunday Times’ had a very fascinating article by Harriet Rubin about the private library collections of several CEOs in the United States. The article had originally appeared in the 'New York Times', on 21st July 2007.

I have taken the liberty as well as the trouble to zero into the essential “keys to their success”, as follows:

1) Serious leaders who are serious readers build their personal libraries ‘dedicated to how to think’;

2) Forget finding the business best-seller list in these personal libraries;

3) The personal library of Phil Knight, the founder of NIKE, has volumes on Asian history, art & poetry;

4) Steve Job of Apple apparently had an “inexhaustible interest” in the books of William Blake — the mad visionary 18th-century mystic poet & artist;

5) David Leach, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for Good Medical Education, stocks his library with the collected works of Aristotle;

6) Michael Moritz, the venture capitalist who took Google, YouTube, Yahoo & Paypal public & made a personal US$1.5 billion fortune, said:

“I try to vary my reading diet and ensure that I read more fiction than nonfiction...I rarely read business books, except for Andy Grove’s ‘Swimming Across,’ which has nothing to do with business but describes the emotional foundation of a remarkable man. I re-read from time to time T. E. Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom,’ an exquisite lyric of derring-do, the navigation of strange places & the imaginative ruses of a peculiar character. It has to be the best book ever written about leading people from atop a camel.”

7) Students of power should take note that CEOs are starting to collect books on climate change & global warming, as well as "books from the 15th century about the weather, Egyptian droughts, even replicas of Sumerian tablets recording extraordinary changes in climate", according to John Windle, a bookseller in San Francisco;

8) Interestingly, personal libraries have always been a biopsy of power. Queen Elizabeth I surrounded herself with the works of Roman historians & kept one book under lock & key in her bedroom: Machiavelli’s treatise on how to overthrow republics, “The Prince.”

9) Sir Winston Churchill retreated to his library to heal his wounds after being voted out of power in 1945 — & after reading for six years came back to power;

10) Over the years, Michael Milken, the philanthropist & junk-bond king has collected biographies, plays, novels & papers on Galileo, the renegade who was jailed in his time but redeemed by history;

11) Dee Hock, father of the credit card & founder of Visa, often read the works of the great philosophers & the novelists of Western life like Steinbeck & Stegner; found on his library table for daily consulting is Omar Khayyam’s “Rubáiyát,” the Persian poem that warns of the dangers of greatness and the instability of fortune.;

12) Sidney Harman, founder of Harman Industries, a $3 billion producer of sound systems for luxury cars, theaters & airports has volumes of Shakespeare, Tennyson, & the poetry of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” & Camus’s “Stranger”. The latter had somehow helped him to define the dignity of working.

With a personal fascination for poets, he also pointed out:

Poets are our original systems thinkers...They look at our most complex environments & they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.” He also reads books the way writers write books, methodically over time.

For two years, he would take down from the shelf “The City of God” by E. L. Doctorow, read the novel slowly, return it to the shelves, then take it down again for his next trip.

“Almost everything I have read has been useful to me — science, poetry, politics, novels. I have a lifelong interest in epistemology & learning. My books have helped me develop a way of thinking critically in business & in golf — a fabulous metaphor for the most interesting stuff in life. My library is full of things I might go back to.”

13) Shelly Lazarus, the chairwoman & chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather said:

As head of a global company, everything attracts me as a reader, books about different cultures, countries, & problems. I read for pleasure & to find other perspectives on how to think or solve a problem, like Jerome Groopman’s ‘How Doctors Think’; John Cornwall’s autobiography, ‘Seminary Boy’; ‘The Wife,’ a novel by Meg Wolitzer; & before that, ‘Team of Rivals.’

She adds further:

“David Ogilvy said advertising is a great field, anything prepares you for it...That gives me license to read everything.”

Well, I must say that these insightful revelations by CEOs are certainly excellent food for serious thought as well as follow-up emulation.


What have I done so far?

What else could I do before the day is over?

What will I do tomorrow?

[Source: Kevin Eikenberry, creator of Powerquotes]


"There are only two ways to live our life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."

(Albert Einstein)

Sunday, July 29, 2007


What are my thoughts for the future?

What can I learn from all my knowledge & experiences of the past?

What can I do in the present in order that I can have a better tomorrow?


There are a few books in my personal library which I had acquired without really knowing the exact reasons for my ultimate decisions at the point of purchase. It could be the spur of the moment. Or something just grabs me. I really don't know.
This is one particular book (in fact, the only one of its genre, which I had bought) that fell under those impulses.

But there is something I am very sure of & that is, I am often fascinated by people who write literature, plays & poems, as well as the aesthetics of their creative work.

I once heard this anecdote from a senior government minister: "Math & Science give you the capability to build a gun. Literature & Poetry help you make the decision when to use it."

Also, I have read from the New York Times that “Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments & they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand.”

Nevertheless, I took the trouble to read - & reread - this book on how to begin a poem. Through the hundreds of practical exercises to get going, I even invoked my muse & wrote a few short poems along the way. Not the best, but not bad for a beginner after all!

Personally, I really appreciate the author's constant encouragement: explore, practise, open up yourself to all the potential sources of poetry - all around you & within you.

I also like his beautiful presentation through twelve thematic chapters (each a self-contained unit), to name a few as follows:

- Preparing: developing your poetic sensitivity;
- Language: learning the fundamental tools of poetry & using them effectively;
- Sight: refining sight & insight to make your poetry come alive within the mind's eye...& the heart's eye, too;
- Sound: sensitizing yourself to the music of words - both singly & in combination;
- Movement: developing the rhythmic qualities that make poems sing...& shout, match, croon & whisper;
- Voice: becoming aware of the fine nuances of how the words are said & connected, revealing each poem's implied speaker & "stance";
- Finishing: bringing each poem to successful completion;

As far as I am concerned, the author has also done a terrific job in addressing the imagery, metaphor & different methods of constructing & experimenting with new poetic forms.

On the whole, & even though I cannot compare this book with others (this is the only one of its genre in my library & the only one I have perused), I would like to rank it with the highest marks.


"Real breakthrough will come only when we are able to stand in the future we want to create & have that future provide the pull."

(Lindsay Collier, author of 'Get Out of Your Thinking Box')