Saturday, October 6, 2007


In a nut shell, "Yes, But..." is a practical guide to overcoming the bureaucratic language that often stifles continuous innovation.

It is packed with light-hearted cartoons & strategy tools to help you to recognize & diffuse the 'Top 40 Killer Phrases', made famous in the author's first book, entitled 'What a Great Idea!'.

Essentially, you will learn to transform "Yes, But..." into "Yes, and..." & your ideas into reality!

For the uninitiated, a 'Killer Phrase' is defined as a knee-jerk response that squelches new ideas; most commonly said by bosses, parents, & government officials. It is often a threat to innovation.

On the other hand, a 'Fight Back Phrase' is defined as words that launch ideas into reality; usually said by achievers, leaders, & entrepreneurs. It is the self talk of champions.

If you are a manager &/or facilitator, please get hold of this wonderful book immediately!


"Age is mind over matter. As long as you don't mind, it don't matter."

The above quotation came from Mohammad Ali, the famous boxer who 'sting like a bee, float like a butterfly...'

I remembered I had bought this book about the time I had just crossed 40.

On the back page was this wonderful message: "Some of us age like old wine. Others don't get older, they get sharper. The idea is to think of your 40th birthday as the beginning of the rest of your life. This is the book that delivers the sure-fire, feel-great-about-it attitude you need - good advice, good laughs, & best of all, lots of good company."

That more or less summed up my only reason for buying the book.

The book contained a dazzling array of pearls of wisdom from Confucious to Zsa Zsa Gabor (Remember 'Green Acres'?). They shed more light than the candles on your cake.

My favourite chapter, among a few others, was 'Jack Benny: Forever 39':

"No matter how often I tell people I'm thirty nine, some of them refuse to believe I'm that old."

If you are struggling through your mid-life-transitional years, like what I did in the early 90's, this book offers some great company!


This is one of the very few good books about creativity from DOWN UNDER, better known to geographers as the LOST CONTINENT. To most people, including me, it's beautiful Australia - the land of koala bears & kangaroos & the legendary Crocodile Dundee! I

n this particular book, 'The Idea Factory' is just the grey matter between our two ears. The author shows how we can make full use of this built-in device on our neck to generate more & better ideas, not necessarily for writing.

I like her simple, step-by-step methods. From the idea generation standpoint, her methods are really great. Her treatment of overcoming Thinker's Block is superb.

The book chapters are interspersed with witty cartoons (typical of Australian humour) to keep the reader going through the pages of the book. What I like most about reading this book is that, each chapter is summarised with 'In a Nut Shell' capsulated notes at the end. I always like & appreciate authors who make life easy for readers.

To show you how the various chapters are structured, I append below the table of contents:

1 The Importance of Ideas;
2 Believing is Seeing;
3 Right Brain, Right Idea;
4 Setting the Scene;
5 Start Seeing UFOs;
6 Pulling out the Stops;
7 The Perfectionist Trap;
8 What's Your Problem;
9 Tools of the Idea Trade;
10 Daydream Believers;
11 Write While You Sleep;
12 The Incubation Process;
13 Eureka Moments on Demand;
14 Your Creative Environment;

The last few chapters are actually my personal favourites!

I certainly rate this book very highly. I enthusiastically recommend it to be included in your 'Creativity & Innovation' Library.


I bought the early edition of this book from Amazon in the early 90's, with the mistaken belief that the book is about creativity at MIT.

Nevertheless, despite the sheer disappointment of my own failure in checking out the book in the first place, I plonked into the book with gusto.

In a nut shell, it's about the life of a MIT post-graduate.

[The author entered MIT in 1981 & received his Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1984.]

Though informative in many respects, I find it quite disheartening to read about the author's personal struggles & triumphs as he went through one of the top-notch technological universities in the world. In a way, it's an eye opener for me.

Although the subtitle is 'Learning to Think at MIT', the author merely shares his own personal experiences in understanding the scientific model & tackling engineering problems as part of the MIT curriculum.

Did I enjoy reading the book? I am ambivalent at best. However, if it is of some consolation to the author, I reckon this may be a good book to read by those aspiring to get into MIT.


“The first & paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self: one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words & acts.”
(Dee Hock, creator of the electronic payment system we now know as VISA & author of the excellent article, 'The Art fo Chaordic Leadership', in Leader to Leader, #15 of Winter 2000)

Friday, October 5, 2007


What can I do this week that will renew my life & be fun?


I understand that successful selling in today's marketplace requires three sets of skills:

1) Sales Skills:

- Prospecting;
- Questioning;
- Uncovering Budget;
- Managing Objections;
- Closing Sales;
- Gaining Commitments;

2) Job Skills:

- Sales Experience;
- Product Knowledge;
- Market Knowledge;
- Policy/Procedures Knowledge;
- Cultural Understanding;

3) Personal Skills:

- Personal Accountability;
- Sustaining Drive;
- Self-Starting Ability;
- Being Coachable;

Traditionally, company recruitment methods often put most of the emphasis on sales skills & job skills.

In other words, most of the time, salesmen are hired based on their sales & job skills.

But when one is fired (or when it just doesn’t work out) it’s almost always because of personal skills.

Invariably, personal skills are closely related to a person’s attitude. They’re sometimes referred to as a person's “true colors” – qualities that surface when the going gets tough.

Industry research findings have reinforced the fact that a new salesman's success or failure frequently boils down to his personal skills.

That’s because sales & job skills can be taught &/or learned, but personal skills are much harder to build.

I also understand that some industry selling experts/coaches have identified seven personal skills, which they believe are critical requisites to a new salesman's success:

1) Goal Achievement;
2) Interpersonal Skills;
3) Personal Accountability;
4) Resiliency;
5) Results Orientation;
6) Self Management;
7) Self Starting Ability;


"Every leader & entrepreneur needs to have an inspiring vision & transcendent purpose, & not to get hung up on their perceptions or their methods, but to value differences as people meet together to come up with a way of doing things. There must be commonality on purpose & values—hopefully those values are based on principles. The ultimate source of security comes from integrity towards those higher purposes & principles."

(Stephen R Covey)


In a recent Straits Times article under its Money page, there was a SME Spotlight on Mr V Kumar, who grew from a dispatch rider to 'Courier King'.

His enterprise, Network Courier, is now a thriving business with 160 staff overseeing more than 7,000 deliveries a day in Singapore. Group turnover is more than S$10 million a year.

Two vehicles are now parked outside his 5-storey office building in Jalan Besar.

One is a vintage Yamaha motorcycle - the very same motor-cycle he had used when he was scratching a living as a dispatch rider in 1982.

The other is an eye-catching Rolls Royce.

Why does he keep the old motor-cycle?

"I don't want to forget the past, & I also want to inspire others that I was once a dispatch rider & I succeed in a life by working hard," he said.

What is next for Network Courier?

"I want us to be a household name, having international recognition, & eventually be listed on the stock exchange," he said.

He shares some more personal insights on his entrepreneurial success:

- having a burning desire & the will to succeed;

- commitment to the customer is #1;

- adopt a hands-on approach & lead by example;

- determination is central to whatever he does;

Best Wishes to you, Mr Kumar.


I fully concur with Dr Michael Hudson, BigIdeaGuru, that leading yourself first is a prerequisite to personal success &/or victory.

To go about it, he suggests that we should work on these seven things every day:








In fact, I would like to add two more things:




The title, 'When Opportunity Knocks: How to Exploit the Unexpected in Business', is certainly very appealing when I first encountered this book on the website.

The author readily shares his personal anecdotes & inspiring stories as he details the abundant variety of business opportunities around us. He even highlights the characteristics of successful opportunists as well as some blunders & unrealistic opportunities to avoid. In fact, he has identified thirty five sources of seemingly profitable opportunities. In these respects, he has done a marvellous job!

What I find lacking in this book is specific information pertaining to the process of assessing & evaluating the viability of those opportunities. Finding opportunities, in tactical terms, is not a difficult matter. Just open up all your senses, especially your eyes, to what’s happening around you, are good enough.

In reality, there are already many good books covering this aspect of exploiting the unexpected in business.

Besides assessment & evaluation, some opportunities may be too raw in scope &/or depth & may need further development &/or refinement. How does one develop &/or refine such an opportunity? Any information given in this area will definitely be useful to potential entrepreneurs.

I would have expected the author, with his many 'hard-knocks', to share at least his own personal as well as business experiences in assessing & evaluating opportunities. This incorporation would have made the book more complete for readers who are looking at this book from the business development angle.

On the whole & to conclude my review, I reckon this book is still worth reading, but only from the standpoint of opportunity finding!

Readers who are interested in the assessment & evaluation as well as pursuit of new opportunities, should read Michel Robert's 'Innovation Formula'.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


If I were to write a list with all the things I need to be happy, what would I put on that list?


"It's not our abilities that show what we truly are. It's our choices."

(Albus Dumbledore, played by Richard Harris, in the movie, 'Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets')


“However good our futures research may be, we shall never be able to escape from the ultimate dilemma that all our knowledge is about the past, & all our decisions are about the future.”
(Ian Wilson, author of 'Scenario Planning Handbook: Developing Strategies in Uncertain Times')


For a small book, stretching just over 100 pages, this wonderful book packs a lot of punch.

There are only six short chapters, each of which is crisply written & to the point.

In a nut shell, this book offers several distinctions, as follows, to help strategic thinkers to get more results from their thinking endeavours:

- reactive vs proactive;
- intentional vs random;
- tactical vs strategic;
- boundaries vs standards;
- dialogue vs debate;
- inquire vs interrogate;
- optimise vs utilise;

This is the part of the book I like most as understanding these distinctions - & putting the simple steps to work - takes your executive thinking to a higher & broader level.

Please read this book if you are thinking about the future.


Among the many classic strategy formulation books that I have owned & read, I treasure 'Top Management Strategy'.

One of the principal authors of this book is Benjamin Tregoe, who co-founded the Kepner-Tregor outfit around the sixties or so, with Charles Kepner.

As a young engineer in the early seventies, I attended their 'Analytic Trouble Shooting' workshop. In the later years as a manager, I had read 'The Rational Manager'.

Subsequently, in later years as a senior manager, I again attended their four-day 'Problem Solving & Decision Making' workshop.

Their rational thinking processes from their books & workshops had often helped me tremendously in my career path from engineer to manager.

This particular book came into my hands about the time - around the mid-eighties - when I was moving into general management.

A quick glance of the table of contents of the book will give you a rough picture of why I like the book:

- Strategy & Survival;
- Taking Stock of Your Strategic IQ;
- Driving Force & the Nine basic Strategic Areas;
- The Power of the Driving Force;
- Making Strategy Happen;
- The Challenges of Strategic Management;
- Organising to Set Strategy;

In fact, many of the author's strategy ideas have influenced other strategy consultants in later years, including Michel Robert.

This particular book impresses me very much. Unlike many books on strategy formulation, this one points out that there are various paths to success. The secret is to take the route that best fits your business.

Another reader's benefits out of this book during that period of time was the 'Selected Annotated Bibliography' which eventually led me to read a good number of other classic strategy books, including Russel Ackoff's 'A Concept of Corporate Planning', Kenneth Andrews' 'The Concept of Corporate Strategy'; Igor Ansoff's 'Corporate Strategy', just to name a few.

On the whole, the author's writing is crisp, concise & clear. The book has just over 100 pages.

From a critical thinking perspective, this book is definitely worth reading. This is because, by going back to reading the classic strategy books (I call this reading backwards), like this one, you will get a better understanding of what strategy works & what strategy doesn't work.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


I had picked up the following method of reading magazines from an original newsletter article by a business consultant (I regret I can't recall his or her name, but I remembered that the term of "charting" was used, although I would have preferred to call it "displayed thinking") many years ago.

To serve my own purpose, I had adapted it to suit my repertoire of visual thinking tools, as well as to structure the reading/thinking process into three principal stages, as follows:


i) Count & then number the paragraphs in the magazine article;

ii) Take out a blank A4 paper. Draw a horizontal line across the top end of the paper, arranged landscape-wise, & divide it into the same number of vertical sections as there are paragraphs in the article. Write the corresponding number above the sections along the horizontal line;

iii) Scan quickly through the article & note any catchy key words in each paragraph. List them on your chart under the appropriate paragraphs/section numbers;

iv) Read the first & the last sentence of each paragraph & note two or three key words that more or less capture the essence;

v) Draw a possible connection linking paragraphs that can go together, & write your notes above the paragraph/section numbers;

vi) Give a title to the grouping of paragraphs/sections;

vii) If there are more than three groupings, divide them into two or three parts & give a title to each;

viii) Give a new title to the whole article;


ix) In your own words, & using your completed chart, attempt to summarise what the author is saying;

x) Note what questions you would like to ask the author & what comments you would have for the author;

xi) Draw a simple picture that would more or less describe what the article is all about;


xii) Use all the key ideas you have gathered &/or synthesised from the above charting & incorporate them into all your daily work activities: emails, conversations, presentations, proposals, meetings, blogs, podcasts, etc.

You can use the same method on a whole book by charting out the table of contents, or you can use it on a particular chapter that you find important by charting the paragraphs.

Please experiment with it & kindly let me know what you think.


How am I doing?

What have I screwed up lately?

What should I be doing better?

What would my associates like for me to do about that?

(Inspired by Phil VanHooser, Dr Michael Hudson of BigIdeaGuru blog, & Geoffrey Colvin, Editor-at-Large, who wrote ' 'The Wisdom of Dumb Questions' article in Fortune Magazine)


Reading is my passion.

Here are some additional ideas & tips to share with readers, drawing from my own reading pursuits:

1) Make my reading relevant:

- my reading plan is always tied to my personal goals & objectives;

- whatever books I read have to be personally relevant to my outcome as a knowledge adventurer & technology explorer in the field of brain-based, future-focused & change-oriented technologies;

- I follow one cardinal rule of high performance reading: I read only what I need: in other words, I don't read the whole book in most instances!

2) Make my reading personal:

- whenever I embark on reading a new book, I always ask myself first: what do I already know about this topic? what do I want to know or learn?;

- during reading, again I will ask myself: how do I feel about this new information?

- after reading, I will round up all the key points & check out: what have I learned from this book? how can I use the key ideas from this book to apply in my work & my life?

- sometimes, I will challenge myself: how is this topic relevant to my life?

- I always have my scratchpad on standby to jot down actional ideas &/or pragmatic insights; oftentimes, they will end up in my Mindmanager Pro maps for further exploration;

- sometimes, I find it worthwhile to apply de bono's PMI thought starter: what is the 'plus' factors in this book? ...'minus' factors in this book? ...'interesting' factors in this book?

3) Make my reading interesting:

- for me, the best ways are: pose some questions; annotate in the margins; apply marginalia like T2D, A2T, P2P, Q2P, etc.; summarise with a quick map, especially at the end of each chapter; make a consolidated review of the book's useful ideas after reading;

- I always challenge myself: where does this idea lead me to?

- I always spend some time to reflect on the stuff I have read - that's why a scratchpad is useful;

- once in a while, I do syntopic reads - it's always fun & more rewarding!;

4) Make my reading mandatory:

- I always keep a daily reading log;

- I read regularly - everyday to be precise - & consistently: in-between Internet surfing; just before going to bed; sometimes while watching TV; while waiting, as I always have one or two books with me; while sitting on the toilet bowl;

- oftentimes, I love to read books off the net, even though the books are often incomplete due to intellectual copyright rules - for me, the important thing is I just read what I need: Thanks to Amazon & Google Readers!

- sometimes, I just browse books in my personal library at random, ten to twenty books at a time;

- one of my favourite past times is visiting bookstores - Borders, Kinokuniya & Times; occasionally, second hand book stores - & I love to browse their book collections; again, my scratchpad is always on standby to steal ideas!

5) Make my reading public:

- I do book reviews on - I am among the top reviewers - as well as in my personal weblog;

- I create book listmanias on to reflect my personal favourites;

- among my many business associates & good friends, I am well known as an excellent resource for ideas because I read very widely;

- I often discuss ideas from books as well as other published sources with my gym buddy - fortunately, we have some common interests;

Good Luck!


"If you wait for opportunities to occur, you will be one of the crowd."

(Edward de bono)


In the first instance, this excellent book offers numerous thoughtful suggestions on how to become a great manager, including ideas for interviewing for talent, how to develop a performance management routine, & how to get the best performance from talented employees.
Also, from the managerial stand-point, I generally concur that the following twelve questions outlined in the book certainly are very useful in helping one to measure the vibrancy & productivity of a workplace:

1) Do I know what is expected of me at work?
2) Do I have the materials & equipment I need to do my work right?
3) At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
4) In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
5) Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6) Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7) At work, do my opinions seem to count?
8) Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel like my work is important?
9) Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
10) Do I have a best friend at work?
11) In the last six months, have I talked with someone about my progress?
12) At work, have I had the opportunities to learn and grow?

However, I also believe, especially from the perspective of career planning, the same twelve questions can serve as a self-questioning checklist for deciding on a planned career move, in terms of:

- what do I get?
- what do I give?
- do I belong here?
- how can we all grow?

I also like the author's 'mountain climb' metaphor in the book.

Overall, this book is very well-researched & beautifully crafted.

SYNTOPIC BOOK REVIEW: 'Danger in the Comfort Zone' & "We Are All Self Employed'



'Danger in the Comfort Zone' is one of the very good books I had acquired while attending a 16-day boot-camp for entrepreneurs & professionals in the United States during the early nineties.

(My copy is actually the earlier edition.)

At that time, I had read it very seriously. I had really liked the author's ideas of earning mentality (or habit) vs entitlement mentality (or habit).

The many problems & scenarios which the author had described candidly about the American workplace were not much different, when I compared them with Singapore's.

Contemporarily, Singapore's employers had encountered the same dilemma. It was only after the economic recession during the mid-eighties & then the Asian financial fiasco during the late nineties that employees' attitudes, in both the private as well as public sector, had changed tremendously. Likewise, employers' attitudes had also followed suit.

At first glance, the author would seem to have criticised employees but I feel the principal premise of the book is more to urge employees to take charge of their own lives by getting out of the comfort zone & moving into the stretch zone. That is true self empowerment: adopt the earning mentality & get rid of the entitlement mentality!

Of course, employers would have to play their part to gain employees' confidence & trust. Their 'command & control' attitude in the past would have to change.

Hence, I would strongly recommend readers to read also 'We Are All Self- Employed: The New Social Contract for Working in a Changed World' by Cliff Hakim.

This book was written in the mid-nineties & my copy is also the earlier edition.

I feel the two authors' brilliant ideas gel very well with each other. In fact, their combined work will make more sense when read syntopically. They will help you transform the way you think about & approach your employment in the corporate world.

To paraphrase the latter book: "It will inspire you to move from the role of dependent employee, ever-adapting to survive, to independent-Interdependent worker, ever-creating to succeed. You'll learn to embrace a "self-employed" attitude to achieve the success you have always yearned for.

Adopting a "self-employed" attitude will prepare you for the inevitable changes that come with time, & help you create a new definition of success rooted in your own interests, skills, values, & desires. It will help you move from merely surviving on the job to engaging your creativity - embedded in the responsibility symbolized by self-employment - & successfully employing yourself in a way that draws on your talents, interests, & deepest values."

I had really enjoyed reading both books tremendously.

To some extent, the wonderful ideas from the two foregoing books had consciously as well as unconsciously contributed to my eventual decision to take charge of the second half of my life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


This pocket-size creativity book certainly has a catchy title. Frankly, I had managed to read only about a fourth of the book.

My sole complaint about it is that there are too many lopsided arrangements of the text passages, most of which have multiple & varied font sizes on a single page.

Worst of all, many of the text passages are laid against dark-toned graphic backgrounds.

These seemingly visual 'dissonances' had caused me some unexpected headaches, which I normally do not encounter when reading non-fictions.

Oftentimes, when I read non-fictions, I would just like to gaze softly at the pages & quickly turn them in a rhythmic manner, but I simply could not follow with this particular book.

Nevertheless, I reckon that the handy collection of short, focused creative exercises, based on those selected ones I have already gone through, are most likely to give readers some intended jolts!

I would probably have to come back to read this book from time to time, just to get on with the remaining pages of goodies.

At this point in time, I regret that I want to give it a poor rating, on account of what I have mentioned above, although it may deserve a better rating for brain stretching, based on those selected exercises I had already gone through!

Who knows, I may change my mind after reading the entire book at the end!


Don’t let this little book fool you. Although it has only 48 pages, the brisk contents are packed with powerful stuff.

According to the publisher, the ideas in the book were first presented to advertising students in 1939 & then published in 1965 - thus having stood the test of time.

More importantly, the author, James Webb Young, was a driving force behind the creation of the modern advertising industry, and is one of advertising's most honored educators & practitioners.

As the title suggests, the author outlines a simple, easy-to-use five-step approach to idea generation. He also explores the importance of making idea generation a vital part of everything you do.

What I really like about this book is the author's principal premise: Ideas are just novel combinations of old elements, & we must keep thinking about them, which give order to new experiences!

I strongly recommend readers to buy & read it. It will definitely, despite its brevity, help you to become a better problem solver & a more creative thinker.

Best of all, you will also gain a valuable perspective that will enable you to jump start your team's creative juices at work!


What am I thankful for today?

What did I learn today?

Where did I do I good job?

Who was I valuable to today?

How did I take care of myself today?


"You can have anything you want, but you cannot have everything you want."

(Vadim Kotelnikov, Inventor & Founder, Ten3 Business e-Coach)


This is really a fun book to read. It's actually an adult adaptation of the author's earlier creativity book for kids, entitled 'Creativity for Kids of All Ages' (which also happens to be another fun book as well as an excellent creativity guide).

To me, this is the simplest & yet powerful creativity guide. Better still, a powerful creativity toolkit.

The author uses over twenty animal metaphors to explain & illustrate how we can learn from Mother Nature to be creative.

Mother Nature has always been man's greatest teacher.

The author' extensive illustrations from the world of nature show his power of acute observation, which to me is also a very important yet learnable tool in creative thinking. In reality, it's a prerequisite for creative thinking.

For example, he says "Observe Like a Lion" as a starter.

A lion will always observe closely its target prey from a distance before going for the kill.

Analogically, one should always study a problem closely from various angles or perspectives and then plan out a strategy towards resolving it.

With over twenty metaphors - creative thinking tools to be precise - & tightly written in a crisp & succinct style, this small book is a recommended must-read for everybody - adults & kids alike - who wants to improve - & enhance - everyday thinking processes.


"This combinatory play of visual images or imagining seems to be the essential feature in productive thought - before there is any connection with words, or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others...Conventional words or other signs have to sought for laboriously only in a secondary state, when the associative play is sufficiently established & can be reproduced at will."

(Albert Einstein, as reported in 'Jamming: The Art & Discipline of Business Creativity' by John Kao)

Monday, October 1, 2007


I had picked up this wonderful collection of questions while surfing the net. It came from Ideaction, a consulting & training company in creativity & brainstorming in Toronto Canada.

The co-founder & president is Claude Legrand. I like his corporate catchphrase:

"Creativity is getting more ideas, innovation is getting better results"

The following questions actually form their thinking methodology.

1) What problem do you want to work on?

2) What does each word in the problem statement mean?

3) What is the context?

4) What are the boundaries?

5) What type of thinking do you want (incremental or revolutionary, short or long term, etc.)?

6) What is your ideal and your worst possible outcome?

7) What process will you use to resolve the issue?

8) What are all the components of the issue, all the different ways to attack the issue?

9) How does the issue look from various, non-linear points of view?

10) What problem or problems do you want to resolve?

11) What are all the possible solutions?

12) Which are the best solutions to resolve the real issue?

13) What is the best way to implement the ideas?

14) What could go wrong during the implementation?

15) What can we do about it?

You can find out more about Ideation's thinking methodology at their corporate website.


I believe, my first real encounter with the power of questions was the understanding & appreciating of the five ‘W’ & one ‘H’ questions (What? Who? Where? When? Why? & How?).

I had probably picked them up from Rudyard Kipling’s famous quotation during the mid sixties - through the work of my English teacher.

Subsequently, I had learned to add one more W (which?) to the collection, in the course of my work as an engineer.

My second encounter occurred while I was reading Michael Ray’s ‘Creativity in Business’, based on the famed course at the Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, most likely during the eighties.

The author had asserted:

“Implicitly or explicitly, creativity always begins with a question. And in both your business and personal lives, the quality of your creativity is determined by the quality of your questions.”

It was also about this time that I had learned more about the questioning process from the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI), an affiliate of the Creative Education Foundation, which I had subscribed as a member.

Since then, I began a burning interest in formulating & using questions to power up my own personal as well as professional creativity. I had also taught them to others in my strategy consulting work as well as my training seminars & workshops.

During the late eighties & early nineties, I came across Anthony Robbins’ brilliant work – ‘Unlimited Power’ & ‘Awaken the Giant Within’. He illuminated me further on the power of questions, with this assertion:

“Questions set off a processional effect that has an impact beyond our imagination. Questioning our limitations is what tears down the walls in life – in business, in relationships, between countries. I believe all human progress is preceded by new questions.”

I then realised the true impact of questioning on personal effectiveness & peak performance.

In fact, I loved Anthony Robbins’ postulation of the following key points to substantiate the power of questions:

1) Thinking itself is the process of asking & answering questions;
2) Successful people asked better questions - & got better answers;
3) If we want to change the quality of our lives, we should change our habitual questions,;
4) The difference between people is the difference in the questions they ask consistently;
5) It’s not the questions we ask, but also the questions we fail to ask;
6) Questions immediately change our focus, & therefore our feelings;
7) Questions also change the resources available to us;

Till this day, I am always fascinated by questions. I also collect them from various published sources & also business plus social settings as a hobby. I often use them to prime my brain.

That’s why I always like to pose questions in my posts.


"Above all, we must place an emphasis on learning how to learn, whereby people can find their way through even more complex labyrinth of information. There is too much to learn. We need, as a basic principle, to know where to find knowledge (not to know it off by heart), to learn to differentiate good (valuable, relevant, up to date) information from poor information, & to learn to manage & apply knowledge in long term planning & decision making."
(Frank Feather, futurist & author of 'G-Forces: 35 Global Forces Restructuring the Future')


"'Don't just stand there, do something' is a dangerous statement. We should replace it more often with: "Before we start running, let's spend a few minutes understanding what's happening & what we should be doing… & then lets run like hell in the right direction."
(Claude Legrand, co-founder & president of Ideaction, a training company specializing in creativity & brainstorming, based in Toronto, Canada)


What is the most important task to do now?

Does it need to be timed?

Is there a minimum or maximum time for completion?

What is the next task?


This is actually a small booklet published by the Foundation of Critical Thinking as part of their Thinker's Guide Series.

Each title in the series, in booklet form, provides convenient, inexpensive, portable references that students & teachers can use to improve the quality of studying, learning & teaching. As such, this booklet is primarily targetted at students &/or teachers.

The authors are well recognised in the critical thinking community. They are also the principal authors of the book, 'Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional & Personal Life'.

Their contextual premise is illuminating, as embodied in all their books & other publications: "The Quality of Your Life is Determined by the Quality of your Thinking."

In this particular booklet, with 70 odd pages, the authors introduce twenty-five fundamental ideas about thinking. They have organised them in such a way that a reader can internalise the process of "critical thinking in action" (the author's definiton of strategic thinking) in about twenty five weeks. Their plan provides for building as each new idea adds to & connects with ideas learned in previous weeks.

For example,

- in the first week, Week 1: Clarify Your Thinking, the reader will focus on clarifying thinking wherever & however he can;

- in the second week, Week 2: Stick to the point, the reader will concentrate on sticking to the key point (as a matter of second emphasis, though, he should still look for opportunities to clarify his thinking);

- in the third week, Week 3: know Your Purpose, the reader will focus on his purpose (while also clarifying thinking & sticking to key points);

& so it goes from week to week.

Every week adds a new emphasis. Every week continues the internalisation of previous weeks. It's a very good learning approach. Effective, too!

At the end of each week's reading, the reader is urged to complete an Action Plan for the Week. Additionally, there is a Record My Progress sheet to be completed for the particular week.

The authors conclude the booklet with one very interesting perspective: READING BACKWARDS!

The authors argue that one of the most powerful ways to educate ourselves, to open our minds to alternative ways to experience the world, & thus to counteract the influence of social conditioning & the mass media, is to read backwards - to read books printed in the past: 10 years ago, 20 years ago...

According to the authors, this perspective provides us with the ability to step outside of the pre-suppositions & ideologies of the present day & helps us form an informed world perspective.

If you learn to read backwards, you will begin to recognise some of the stereotypes & misconceptions of the present. You will develop a better sense of what is universal & what is relative; what is essential & what is arbitrary.

I fully concur with the authors.

I strongly urge all students & teachers to get hold of this booklet...better still, the entire library of Thinker's Guides.

I actually own the entire library as I find many of the authors' ideas on thinking are readily applicable in the professional as well as business context.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


How to put in more play in my work & my life?


When compared with Terry Richey's 'The Marketer's Visual Toolkit', I rate Larry Raymond's book second best, in terms of business application possibilities.

Terry's many ideas are geared strictly towards the marketer, whilst Larry's ideas are geared towards the strategic planner - more so in the arena of Organizational Development (OD).

In terms of applications and examples, Terry's book is more wide ranging, although I must add that Larry's book has more depth in his treatment of the subject, from the strategic thinking and planning perspective.

The few examples given in Larry's book are also well illustrated for the business reader.

On the whole, Larry's book is still an excellent visual toolkit for the businessman.

For readers who are fascinated by visual tools in the field of business applications, I would recommend exploring Malcolm Craig's 'Thinking Visually' book. He illustrates with more than a dozen graphical templates for visualisation of complex information in business as well as in research.


This is so far the best book I have come cross on visual thinking for sales and marketing professionals. It covers a very broad range of visual tools for strategic thinking, planning, communication and problem solving in the field of sales and marketing.

My only complaint about the book is that some of the business examples given are somewhat perfunctory.

A more detailed treatment of each "business problem case" in the book would have given the book much more depth, and make it easier for business readers to follow and adopt the concepts/approaches.

Nevertheless, the amount of visual thinking concepts/approaches introduced in the book are well worth your money spent to buy the book. Apparently, it is now a classic, and sadly, out of print.

I would recommend readers to explore Larry Raymond's 'Reinventing Communication', which has a slant towards strategic planning, but nevertheless gives a more detailed treatment on the same subject.


"The word 'mistake', Sir, is not one that appears in my dictionary."

(Secret Agent Johnny English, played by Rowan Atkinson, famous for his 'Mr Bean' antics on television)


"Play will be to the 21st Century what work was to the last 300 years of industrial society - our dominant wya of knowing, doing & creating value."

(Pat Kane, author of 'The Play Ethic: A Manifesto or a Different Way of Living')


One of the most profound learning experiences I have picked up about personal change management is drawing many valuable lessons from Rolf Smith's '7 Levels of Change: Different Thinking for Different Results' during the mid-nineties.

I would like to share with readers his innovative strategy - & my personal experiences - for dealing with a wide spectrum of changes from different levels of thinking perspectives:

LEVEL 1: DOING the right things:

- first, learn, understand - & then master - the basics;
- do all things right the first time - this is very important!; otherwise you will end up in temporary insanity - doing the same things over & over again & expecting a different result!
- focus on priority tasks i.e. first things first;

- alway put the 80/20 Rule to work i.e. concentrate on high-payoff activities;
- constantly seek ways to enhance personal effectiveness;

LEVEL 2: DOING things right:

- once you have mastered the basics, focus on doing things well by following already established standards or procedures, unless they are out-of-date;
- this is to cut down the learning curve, so that can you can move faster - today, it's the fast that eat the slow!

- sometimes, this may require continual adjusting to newly established standards or procedures in line with rapid changes in the landscape where you work, live & play;
- combined with Level 1, you are actually consolidating your power to getting things done effectively & efficiently;

LEVEL 3: DOING things better:

- seek to improve or fine tune ways to speed things up, shorten output time, increase functionality, & reduce downtime;
- this is where creativity & imagination can come into play;
- constantly search for new ways to look at &; do things;
- don't foregt to solicit suggestions or ideas from everyone;
- focus on continual improvement in daily processes or practices - this is commitment to disciplines;
- it's also important to help, mentor & coach others;

LEVEL 4: DOING away with things:

- constantly stay focused on your core competencies & capabilities;
- cut out all the sub-optimal tasks which don't count at the end of the day;
- focus on eliminating waste & simplifying activities;

- this calls for regular internal audit as well as environmental scanning;

LEVEL 5: DOING things other people are doing:

- notice & observe the world around you;
- bench mark against the best industry practices;

- don't forget to assimilate valuable inputs from your customers, suppliers, facilitators & others, including your competitors;
- sometimes, it may be worthwhile to look at best practices from other industries;
- spend some effort & time to enhance on existing processes or practices;

LEVEL 6: DOING things no one else is doing:

- do something very different or doing something very differently - winners always do things differently;
- constantly shift mental perspectives to look at existing practices or procedures;

- think strategically & plan ahead;
- play, explore & experiment with new ideas or options;
- prepare to take some risks with seemingly weird ideas - no venture, no gain!
- look at the world with an eye for unexploited opportunities - remember Peter Drucker's 7 Sources of Innovation!
- ask yourself: Why Not?

LEVEL 7: DOING things that can't be done:

- constantly evaluate your mental model about what works & what doesn't work;
- question & challenge your assumptions;
- from time to time, move out of the comfort zone & venture into the stretch zone, where abundant hidden opportunities exist;
- Joel Arthur Barker's famous question: "What is today impossible, but if it were possible it would fundamentally change the way you do business?" is a good reminder;

- dream the impossible - remember, impossible is nothing!
- breakthrough ideas often come from the edge - that uncomfortable point beyond the comfort zone;
- don't hesitate to break some rules;

Rolf Smith's book had invariably given me an excellent understanding as well as a warm appreciation of the fact (in reality, it's a strategic insight!) that different thinking produces different results.

Over the years, I had applied the author's seven levels of change to plan & chart out my path as I pursued my personal as well as professional interests.

Thanks, Rolf, for your great work!


While surfing the net recently, I stumbled on to an insightful article, written by James Harrington, an expert in business process improvement & project change management, in the Quality Digest.

In the article, he shares one definition of the term "status quo": meeting expectations.

He adds that we might not like the environment we're in, but we know it, understand it and have adjusted to it

According to him, "change" occurs when this balance shifts and expectations are disrupted.

Also, a "change" can be defined as a disruption in expectations. When this happens, the four C's are triggered:

1) Competence:
You question whether you'll be competent to exist in the changed environment;

2) Comfort:
You no longer feel comfortable because you don't understand what's going to happen to you;

3) Confidence:
You lose confidence because someone else is defining what's going to happen to you;

4) Control:
You've lost control of the situation;

From my personal experiences, I believe as long as we can develop & enhance our personal power in these four areas, we can systematically manage the changes that come our way.

There are four specific things we can do to be a master of change:

1) Be very clear about what we want:

- before we begin any endeavour, we must know exactly in advance what we expect our outcome to be;
- we must believe confidently & emotionally that we can achieve that outcome;
- we must establish motivating goals & objectives in respect of that outcome;
- in doing so, we are applying the principle of future pull - the image of achieving that outcome will pull us forward;

2) Consolidate our power in all the things we do:

- we must focus on all our priorities;
- & apply the 80/20 Rule in all our tasks;
- we must also concentrate on all high payoff activities at all times;

3) Be prepared to be committed to disciplines:

- we must put our plan of action to work immediately;
- we must be prepared to stay focused with consistency & persistence in our efforts, but remain flexible in our approach;
- by doing so on a daily basis, the power of compounding will invariably kick in;

4) Dedicate to life-long learning:

- we must spend 80% of our time on personal development i.e. learning & doing new things;
- & keep ourselves up-to-date about developments around us - both inside & outside our sphere of activity;
- participate actively in the 'Invisible University' curriculum, as propounded by Ronald Gross, in his classic book, 'Peak Learning'; Zig Ziglar's 'Automobile University' curriculum is also a good alternative;



I recall that, during the late eighties or maybe it was the early nineties, I had listened to an intriguing audio tape, entitled 'Acceleration of Knowledge', by Robert Anton Wilson, in which he talked about the 'Jumping Jesus Phenomenon'. He used the metric of "one jesus" - with the name of the celebrated philosopher born that year - to define the aggregate human knowledge in the year 1 A.D.

Last night, before going to bed as usual, I had reread an intriguing article in the Straits Times, which was originally featured on Bloomberg.

A global investment bank, Standard Chartered, issued a research report this morning called China Years: How many are you living?” The report gives a sense of how the scorching pace of change in China compares to change elsewhere.

Anyone who visited China in the past, then comes back, always exclaims breathlessly at the change.

For amusement, the economists at Standard Chartered decided to put a metric to the change, choosing per capita economic output in China over the period 1980-2007 and comparing it to 60 or so other countries.

Here’s some of what they came up with.

“According to our calculations, one American year is equivalent to one quarter of a China year, or 2.8 months. One British year is equivalent to 3.1 China months. In other words, an American or a Brit will experience as much change in China in the space of three months as he or she would at home in a year. Life here really is four times quicker.”

So an American who lives in China 2½ years will see as much change around him that he would have to wait 10 years to see at home.

For fellow Asians, “China years” aren’t quite as impressive. One Singaporean year is equivalent to six months in China. One Korean year is equivalent to eight China months.

At the other extreme, take Malawi in Africa, which has seen almost no economic growth in recent decades. One year in Malawi is like seven hours in China, the study reports.

Here are some other calculations. The period of time in parentheses is how long in ‘China time’ for one year in the mentioned country: Brazil (24 days), Philippines (one month), Mexico (five or six weeks), Colombia (two months), Germany (2.3 months), Israel (2.5 months), Japan (2.8 months), Norway (3.4 months), Indonesia (4.4 months), Ireland (5.8 months) and Vietnam (7.2 months).

Well, one thing for sure, irrespective of whether one is talking about acceleration in knowledge or life experiences in the fast lane, change is inevitably here to stay. China, for that matter, is one fast moving, quick change dragon!


Strategic thinking (or exploration) is one of my pet subjects.

So, when I first browsed this book in a local bookstore, I was intrigued by several terms found in the Index page: strategic hypotheses, opportunity creation & exploitation (OCE), business strategy as falsifiable hypothesis, falsification vs verification, asymmetries (natural, created), web of belief.

I was even more surprised when I found terms like astrology and guided imagery in a mainstream book intended for general managers. I bought the book and I have not been disappointed after reading it.

It took me quite a while to appreciate the author's intellectually provocative ideas about strategy formulation.

I find it quite informative to read the author's masterfully intertwining of contemporary models of breakthrough corporate strategies (real-life cases) with revolutionary concepts drawn from science, philosophy, military, political history as well as business history. However, I still think he was a little bit too long-winded in the process.

The author's artful usage of the "Hammer and Pivot" metaphor (drawn from a successful historical military battle formation) in the Strategic Anatomy chapter (3) as a tool for internal capability assessment was quite a gem. This will definitely help to enhance the traditional SWOT Analysis in a company strategy formulation exercise.

Overall, I find his insights refreshing.

In a nutshell, his brilliant arguments in the context of strategy formulation, can be summarised as follows:

1. A strategy is a hypothesis.

2. A strategy is a testable and falsifiable hypothesis.

3. Goals and mission statements are only the starting points for strategic hypotheses.

4. A falsifiable strategy has two basic elements for testing and verification: Conditions and Outcomes/Consequences. (The author puts a lot of emphasis here, and also shows how to use IF and THEN statements.)

5. To craft a successful strategic hypothesis, begin by asking questions. (The author provides some penetrating questions. They will help to spell out the conditions and consequences.)

6. When experience or experimentation falsifies a theory, learning naturally takes place, by doing, of course.

7. Strategy formulation is a work of constant refinement.

I enjoyed very much perusing the four chapters (5,6,7, & 8) covering opportunity creation and exploitation (OCE), the two chapters (9,10) on corporate cultures and the web of belief, and the last chapter (11), which summarised the book in the form of Do's and Don'ts.

At the end of each chapter, the author provides many points to ponder (P2P), several questions to ask (Q2A) and some things to do (T2D) in the form of "Consequences, Implications and Checklists." I find these summariser/activator features to be very useful for readers, especially for me. They make the book so much easier to read and digest.

Summing up, this is a MUST-READ and MUST-DO book to be included in your Strategic Thinking Library. Highly recommended for entrepreneurs.