Saturday, February 16, 2008


These are the recent scenic snapshots of the walking route which my wife & I usually take from our Block 467 on Jurong West Street 41 to the Jurong East Sports Centre.

We will walk along the five-foot way parallel to Jurong West Avenue 1, then cross the road bridge to reach the other side of Jurong East Avenue 1.

The monsoon canal as shown in the snapshots delineates Jurong West from Jurong East.

[The recent snapshots have been taken chronologically from the Jurong East Sports Centre to our Block 467. The time was then about 12 noon, when the sunlight was brighter. In this post, we have deliberately arranged the snapshots in reverse order, to show the route from Block 467 to the Jurong East Sports Centre.]


[This is a companion post to my earlier post, bearing the same title.]

Learning Point Associates, a nonprofit US-based educational organization with more than 20 years of direct experience working with & for educators & policymakers to transform education systems & student learning, have identified the following as 21st Century Skills Sets, in addition to the many physical manifestations of literacy (Scientific, Economic, Technological, Visual, Information & Multicultural):

1) Global Awareness;

2) Adaptability & Managing Complexity;

3) Self-Direction;

4) Curiosity;

5) Creativity;

6) Risk Taking;

7) Higher-Order Thinking & Sound Reasoning;

8) Teaming & Collaboration;

9) Interpersonal Skills;

10) Personal Responsibility;

11) Social & Civic Responsibility;

12) Interactive Communication;

13) Prioritizing, Planning, & Managing for Results;

14) Effective Use of Real-World Tools;

15) Ability to Produce Relevant, High-Quality Products;

Although these skill sets are intended to classroom applications, they nonetheless paint a pretty good picture about the requisite skill sets for surviving - & thriving - in the 21st Century.

Full descriptions of these skill sets, including free download of information documents in .pdf format, are available at their corporate website.


1) How effective is my current style in approaching problems & opportunities, & interacting with others?

2) Does my approach facilitate or get in the way of accomplishing what needs to be done?

3) What can I do to improve the way in which I go about doing things?

[Inspired by Stephen M R Covey's 'The Speed of Trust]


During the recent Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, I took the opportunity to watch Jack Neo's probably 10th movie production with the title 'Just Follow Law', starring Gurmit Singh & Fann Wong, supported by a host of funny characters.

To be frank, I did not watch the movie in its entirety, as half way through I decided to switch channel in order to watch something else. I was very disappointed with our friend, Jack Neo.

I had watched many of his earlier masterpieces & they were great entertainment stuff, e.g. 'Money not Enough', 'I not Stupid', 'The Best Bet' & 'One Leg Kicking', just to name a few.

The movie seemed to throw some pot shots at the government bureaucracy.

Somehow I feel this tactical approach is outmoded in today's context, because I feel strongly that the civil service has improved tremendously over the years with the lauch of 'PS21' initiatives.

Of course, I do not deny there are still some tiny pockets of 'caveman mentality' or 'inferiority complex'.

'Switching bodies' in the case of the two principal characters of the movie seemed to be very stale & insipid in comparison to 'The Hot Chick' (starring Roy Schneider; boy/girl switch) or 'Freaky Friday' (starring Jamie Lee Curtis; mother/daughter switch;) or 'The Shaggy Dog' (starring Tim Allen; man/dog switch;).

One thing I am very sure is this: Jack Neo is gradually loosing steam in generating novel ideas, after having chalked up some good movie track records in yesteryears.

To me, & sad to say, 'Just Follow Law' is a vague attempt on his part to string together a ragtag collection of comedy sketches from the good old days of 'Comedy Night' on television, which had brought our friend unanimous fame as a popular comedian.


Shirley Xu, a Chinese lady blogger gave her few cents' worth about the power of focus in her bi-lingual personal weblog:

"Focus is the power of gaining every single aspect of what you are trying to do. It helps you to use all your energy upon what you are attempting. Focusing helps to stop you from losing the attention you need to complete a task.

Focus has it disadvantages. When you focus, your attention is so solely directed to one topic, it makes you deaf to everything else."


"We're all vulnerable; it's easy to lose focus. Accept the fact that we must repeatedly recover our focus. A brief loss of focus is a minor derailment, but, if not regained rapidly, loss of focus becomes a wholesale wreck. Focus, readjust & realign."

(Gary Ryan Blair, author of the ebook, 'Ten Commandments of Goal Setting')


In a nut shell, a lifelong learning framework encompasses learning throughout the life cycle, from cradle to grave, & in different learning environments, formal, nonformal & informal.

One of the early institutional outfits that I had come across during the early eighties in my pursuit of lifelong learning was the New Horizons for Learning (NHL).

In those early days, I had really enjoyed reading their newsletters & other published works.

NHL was founded in 1980 by Dee Dickinson & others, but had since retired in 1995. However, its website with its vast learning resources is still available for public access.

It has broken down lifelong learning into:

- early childhood/parenting;
- learning in adolescence;
- higher education'
- learning in the workplace;
- learning in the senior years;

Although many of its learning resources may seem dated in today's context, I feel that they are still useful & relevant for foundational understanding & background reading.

I suggest readers to use NHL's learning resources as a launchpad for exploring the world of lifelong learning. That's how I got started on my own journey.

Please use this link to connect to their lifelong learning resources.


Besides reading & blogging, I love to spend time surfing the net to find out what's out there in terms of, to put it in broad terms, learning & knowing the skill sets necessary for surviving & thriving in the 21st century.

Recently, I came across three interesting snippets of information, which I probably had read many years ago:

1) It is projected that 80% of the jobs that will be available in 2010 do not exist today;

2) Today, there is a greater chance that workers will start off in one direction, then change to a different career, as they change jobs;

3) The average worker will change job at least eleven times in his or her lifetime, & will change complete career fields three times;

The first one was attributed to the US Department of Labour, while the other two, to career management experts.

What do all these observations mean to all of us working in the 21st century? What are the significant implications for job hunters or changers today?

I recall & believe that Jim Rohn, generally considered by most people as 'America's Foremost Business Philosopher' [Anthony Robbins had openly acknowledged him as his mentor] had answered the above questions beautifully several years ago, when I attended the National Achievers Congress in Singapore, in which he was one of the keynote speakers.

Jim Rohn warned that "it is important not to walk into the early part of the 21st century without multiple skills, or should I say, back-up skills..."

His point was that we should learn more than one skill. A multitude of skills, to be precise. He gave language acquisition as an example.

This brings me back to an insightful observation made by Charles Handy in the late eighties or probably in the early nineties.

He had talked about the 'portfolio worker' in contrast to the 'knowledge worker' in the 21st century.

According to him, a 'portfolio worker' is one who maintains an active portfolio of his talents, natural gifts, skills, abilities & accomplishments, with which he will obtain temporary project assignments in a variety of organisational outfits across a gamut of geographic spheres, rather than securing permanent jobs in a specific country or region.

In other words, a 'portfolio worker' will consider himself or herself as a walking portfolio of skills & attributes, not in terms of a job title or a fancy office.

A number of key skill sets have more or less been identified by experts as prerequisites of a 'portfolio worker':

- ability to manage self, work, time & money;

- ability to learn continuously;

- proficiency with computers & information technology;

- interpersonal & communication skills;

- self direction;

- creativity;

- flexibility;

- versatility;

Many years ago, one of the participants in my creativity workshop, a 20-year veteran in the high tech electronics industry, had remarked that a fresh graduate in technology would easily find more than 50% of what he had learned in the university obsolete.

In fact, Denis Waitley, author of 'Empires of he Mind', which I had read during the nineties, also made a very valid point:

"Knowledge is a lifelong experience, not a collection of facts or skills. What you learned in school is no longer all you need to know . . . Every 30 seconds some new technological company produces yet another innovation Your formal education has a very short shelf life."

I like to use an insightful observation by Paul Zane Pilzer, an economist & author of 'Unlimited Wealth', which I had read in the early nineties, to sum up this post:

"The overwhelmingly largest determinant of success today for both the individual & the organisation is the speed with which they can accept, learn, & work with technological change . . . Prosperity today belongs to the person & organisation that learns new things the fastest . . .

The key to achieving financial success today, or success in any field for that matter, is being able to learn new things. And the key to having the ability to learn new things, is developing confidence in your ability to learn . . .

Indeed, technology is advancing so rapidly on so many fronts that the main constraint on innovation today is not so much the capacity of engineers & entrepreneurs to come up with new ideas, but their ability to keep abreast of & integrate the latest developments from fields outside their own particular specialty . . ."

Friday, February 15, 2008


1) What is my current level of knowledge in my specific field?

2) What am I doing to stay current?

3) What other areas of knowledge am I pursuing?

[Inspired by Stephen M R Covey's 'The Speed of Trust']


I have extracted the following interesting information from the website of GoalsGuy Learning Systems Inc., owned by Gary Ryan Blair, better known as the 'The GoalsGuy'.

Rule #1:
Expect Volatility

We are witnessing an exponential increase in the velocity, complexity, and unpredictability of change. This increase creates a hypercompetitive international environment that bears little resemblance to the one that existed even five years ago.

Rule #2:
Invent New Rules

Invent your own and make others follow you! Competitive advantages and profits will belong to innovators who transcend the existing parameters of competition.

Rule #3:
Innovate or Die

Develop conscious strategies and mechanisms to promote consistent innovation. Resting on your laurels is simply not an option: winners are innovating and surpassing themselves constantly.

Rule #4:
Break Barriers

You must dismantle the internal barriers that so often separate people, departments and disciplines. The boundaries between firms and their outside suppliers, customers and sometimes even competitors are also under severe pressure.

Rule #5:
Be Fast

Implementation is everything and it better be fast. These days it's far better to be 80 percent right and quick than 100 percent and three months late.

Rule #6:
Think Like an Entrepreneur

The days of depending on corporate size and reputation to drop opportunities in your lap are over. Entrepreneurs go out and make things happen and allow themselves to fail and improve because of it.

Rule #7:
Think Global

The fastest growing markets in the world today are outside North America. Companies can and do now shop in a single global supermarket for just about everything.

Rule #8:
Keep Learning

At the end of the day, the only truly sustainable competitive advantage will be your ability to learn faster and better than your competitors, and to turn that learning into new products, services and technologies before your competitors can imitate your last innovation.

Rule #9:
Measure Performance Differently

Concentrate on key strategic and profitability drivers, ones that reveal the underlying dynamics of your business, focus your energy on what really drives the future success of your business.

Rule #10:
Be Nice

The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and hands and then work outward from there. If we improve ourselves by doing good for others, we build a solid bridge for success in the new economy.

[Gary Ryan Blair is President of The GoalsGuy. He helps business owners, corporate executives & sales professionals manage their time, set their priorities, & stay focused so they can achieve their goals, grow their business, & be more successful. Gary can be reached for speaking, coaching & media requests at 877-462-5748 or by sending an email to]


I reckon I am more focused than most people, partly because I had been trained as an engineer.

The other part is probably attributed to my early exposure to the best tools & powerful resources, when I had just started work as a young engineer during the late sixties.

One of the first books in this respect was Peter Drucker's 'The Effective Executive'.

Here are some of the best tools & powerful ideas I have used or put to work over the years:

1) Have a Written Plan:

- For me, this is most important, as it always serves as my overall guiding force;

- More importantly, I also make sure that the designated tasks in the plan to meet specific objectives are executed accordingly;

- I also constantly review the progress of my task execution; execution & review form the hallmarks of an effective plan;

- As the expression goes, "We Don't Plan to fail, but we often Fail to Plan';

- It is my opinon that even a 60-day or 90-day plan is better than no plan;

- In the book, 'The Power of Focus', the three expert authors suggest: 'The One-Year Vision', 'The 60-Day Action Plan', 'The 60-Day Focus Plan', & 'The Daily Snapshot'; they are worth exploring!

- ultimately, my plan facilitates my focus on the desired outcome;

2) Apply Pareto's Law or the 80:20 Rule:

- For me, this is the second most important thing;

- It can be a 70:30 or 90:10 ratio, it doesn't matter; what matters most is the fact that, in practice, only a handful of important tasks always produce the main bulk of my intended results;
- application of the Pareto's Law facilitates my focus on the most important things in my life;

3) Always go for the 'Big Rocks':

- This resonates with the application of Pareto's Law, as I am always focusing on the tasks & activities that contribute the highest returns to my investment of effort, time &/or money;

- This actually comes from Stephen Covey;

- paying attention to the 'Big Rocks' facilitates my focus on high-payout activities all the time;

4) Learn to Accept Distractions;

- Distractions in all their physical manifestations are the inevitable things in life; I just learn to accept them as they are & move on with the important things I need to do to produce the desired results;

-That's why, with a written plan in hand, Pareto's Law in practice, & all the 'Big Rocks' in view, I find it much easier to control & prevent the inevitable distractions from impeding my progress;

5) Stop Multi-tasking:

- When come to real full concentration, the brain can only focus on one task at a time;

- Think about about it, focus is 'following one course until successful';

- With incessant multi-tasking, "Jack of all trades, & master of none" becomes real as the end result;

- I reckon once in a while when the situation demands it, it's OK to do more than one task at a time, but watch it!;

6) Be Here Now;

- I am always aware of the necessity of 'living in the present moment';

- Be aware of nothing else, but just be here now; what it means is that my mind is focused on the task at hand, without being 'lost in space', so to speak;

- For example, when my wife appears & talks to me when I am busy with my tasks, I will always turn my head towards her to maintain eye contact & listen while she says her piece;

- Have you ever come across fellow Singaporean travellers who just can't seem to leave their work back home when they are on vacation - they are always on the phone, talking about office or business problems?

- Charles Handy likes to call it 'presenteeism';

7) Keep a T2D List;

- I always have a pocket note book with me. This is something I have learned from Albert Einstein. In it, there's a T2D list i.e. 'Things to Do' List;

- T2D allows me to keep track of the important tasks to be completed for the day;

- I often use it a memory jogger;

8) Practise a Relaxation Routine;

- It's actually meditation, but I like to call it 'relaxation routine'. For me, the former is rigid & ritual, whereas the latter is more relaxed & fun;

- A fifteen or twenty minutes' of relaxation routine helps a lot, particularly in terms of putting the mind at rest. At ease, so to speak;

- Sometimes, I just listen to Baroque &/or New Age music in the background as an alternative;

- In recent months, I have found another alternative means of relaxation: uMoments from OSIM!

9) Switch off Handphones, Email & Instant Messaging:

- In today's Knowledge Economy, these are intended to be our productivity tools, but they also invariably add a lot of pressure & tension to our lifestyles;

- When I go to the gym, I seldom carry my handphone in my gym bag, unless I am expecting an important call;

- I only do my email check first thing in the morning. That's it;

- Instant Messaging is currently not my cup of tea;

10) Spend More Time Thinking & Reflecting, preferably on a Daily Basis;

- For me, this is very important too, as it allows me to consolidate what I have been doing for the day, reviewing things that work & those that didn't work, revising my tactical approach, if necessary, & organising for the next day or so, according to my master plan;

- I reckon, without thinking & reflecting, life actually becomes a mad chase;

- Best of all, & for me, this sort of planned 'time-out' also serves as my 'battery charging', so to speak!

- I feel much more focused with a clear, relaxed mind;

- As the expression goes, "Clarity is Power";

Over the years, I have found that developing focused attention is not a difficult task at all. Once the ball is set rolling, as what I have described above, most of the things will automatically fall into place.


"All successful people are people of purpose. They hold fast to an idea, a project, a plan, & will not let it go; they cherish it, brood upon it, tend & develop it; & when assailed by difficulties, they refuse to be beguiled into surrender; indeed, the intensity of the purpose increases with the growing magnitude of the obstacles encountered."

(James Allen, 'The Mastery of Destiny')

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Dr. Roger Landry, a former physician to astronauts, shares his 'Ten Ways to Age Successfully':

1) Use it or lose it. Use your physical and mental skills, or they may not be there when you need them.

2) Exercise. Modern science has found that exercise seems to be the closest thing to a fountain of youth. Walk at least 30 minutes almost every day and do moderate strength training two or three times a week for balance, endurance and confidence.

3) Challenge your mind. Talk to friends, play games, read, travel and use your memory. Most of the mental ability that is lost with age is due to lack of use, not disease.

4) Stay connected. Cherish family. Nurture friendships and join clubs dealing with your interests.

5) Stay productive. Use your skills or time to help others.

6) Lower your risk for disease.

7) Eat for the long haul. You need more special vitamins and minerals and fewer calories than when you were younger. Drink one to two quarts of water or water-based fluids every day.

8) Involve children in your life. The relationship between elders and children is fulfilling and necessary for both.

9) Take responsibility for another life. Plants and pets offer ways to continue nurturing relationships.

10) Laugh. There is evidence that a sense of humor may actually help cure disease.

[Source: Honolulu Star Bulletin]


According to Brain Kim, who runs a web-based success training outfit:

1) You will find that if you focus on one single subject & excel at it, many other doors begin to open for you;

2) Focusing on on subject is analogous to building your own staircase;

With regard to the second point, Brain Kim argues that, once you get to stand on that stair, & you look around, you’ll probably see things you’ve never seen before when you were at ground level.

You’ll probably see things from a different perspective than when you saw them on ground level. Now that you’re on higher ground, you’ll have access to things you never had before because they were previously out of sight.


I have found the above interesting article on the net.

The author is Paul McNeese, CEO of Optimum Performance Associates, a consulting firm specializing in transitional & transformational change for individuals & institutions through publication.


1) What skills do I currently have?

2) What skills will I need in the future that I do not currently have?

3) To what degree am I involved in constantly upgrading my skills?

[Inspired by Stephen M R Covey's 'The Speed of Trust']


When I read a book or a magazine or just off the net, I always read with a purpose. In other words, I look for & read what I need.

Generally, I don't finish reading the entire book, especially when it is a non-fiction book.

Anyway, most of my readings are non-fictions. I read only those chosen sections that answer to my ultimate application.

Of course, before I start to read a book, I will often flip through the pages in a rhythmic manner, as I am trained as a PhotoReader.

Prior to that, I would have gone through the table of contents, preface, end summary & bibliography to determine whether the book is worthwhile for my continuing pursuit.

When I read a book, I always have an orange colour marker with me. Plus, small post-it notes & those fancy page tags from 3M. My scratchpad is always on standby, too.

The purpose of the marker is to guide my eyeballs. To stay on track, so to speak, as well as to avoid potential distractions.

As a fast reader (Thanks to PhotoReading!), I can often cut to the chase very quickly by zeroing into passages where I can locate exactly what I need.

I will often make marginal notations, or annotations, in the form of Q2A, P2P, N2R, A2C, & T2D, which I have talked about in earlier posts. Sometimes, depending on my interest or mood, the critical ones may go straight into my scratchpad.

From time to time, I may highlight certain passages or just draw two vertical lines next to the passages &/or underline certain phrases of interest to me.

Occasionally, I may sketch some visual organisers, e.g. mindmaps, flow diagrams, etc., on the pages of the book, where there are large white spaces, or on to the post-it notes.

The fancy page tags are often used to tag those pages I may need to come back at a later time.

Depending on my interest or mood at the time, I may convert all my marginal notations into a larger map on my MindManager Pro or Inspiration. I will then use the resultant map as a springboard for further thinking & reflection. I will use it to explore where it will lead me to further.

Sometimes, it will lead me to explore further on the net, or check up other books in the same genre.

Over the years, I have found this exploratory exercise to be the most meaningful & productive aspect of my reading.

That's why I love to read the author's bibliography at the end of the book. I often use that as a launchpad for getting more out of the stuff I had already read.

Edward de bono is one culprit who doesn't like to share his bibliography with readers.

After reading, I often like to formulate a quick summary of the key ideas, & discuss what I have read with associates or friends.

My gym buddy shares some of my reading pursuits, especially in the area of health, brain fitness, nutrition, & longevity.

We often pow-wow together, while walking to & fro the gym &/or hang out in the neighbourhood coffee shops &/or just loafing in his home.

I always enjoy the pow-wow sessions very much, as they often help me to think on my feet, jog my memory, & dissect or explore the concepts further.

As the saying goes, knowledge shared is power squared. Each of us may come with a single idea, but we leave with numerous ideas.

For me, & since I am also a strategy consultant & success coach, I reckon much of the intellectual confabulation &/or synthesis is gradually assimilated into my work. My life, too.

I am a book reviewer on, & so the sharing experience further contributes to my own intellectual stimulation.

Writing my personl weblog adds on to the intellectual stimulation.

I fully concur with the experts: knowledge is measured by what you do with what you know.

All these intellectual workouts make my day: I enjoy reading purposefully, meaningfully & productively.


"What we think, or what we know, or what we believe, is in the end, of little consequence. The only thing of consequence is what we do."
[John Ruskin, 1819-1900, one of the greatest art critics of all time, whose timeless observations are required reading for architects, students & lovers of architecture;]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Dr Robert Anthony, a peak performance trainer & author of more than 15 books, in an introductory message which I had found on the net, shares some interesting pointers about his 'Million Dollar Secret' that can change your life:

1) If you keep THINKING what you are thinking, you will keep DOING what you are doing, & you will keep GETTING what you are getting;

2) What you are experiencing NOW & in the future is the result of your previous thoughts. Your future is predetermined by your thoughts in thi smomemnt. So if you want to change your future, you must change what you are thinking about in this moment;

3) How you feel about life & anything in particular depends on WHERE YOU FOCUS YOUR ATTENTION;

4) Ask yourself: 'What do I focus on most of the time?"

5) What you think about today, in this moment, will become your future;

6) Anytime you feel stressed, worried, fearful or have any other negative feeling, it is becaue you are doing two things:

a) You are focusing on what you don't want to happen;

b) You are focusing on the future, not the present moment;

7) Observe what you focus on most of the time;

[More information about Dr Robert Anthony, his work & his books can be found in this link.]


What would I do today if I were brave?

If I were brave today, what inspired leap would I take today to improve my work or business?


As I was reading a recent newspaper report about the three armed robbers who took off four paintings worth US$160 million from a museum in Switzerland's second major art heist in a week, I couldn't stop recalling what I had read many years ago about smart brains.

Police said the incident followed another robbery last week when two Picasso piantings reportedly worth US$4.5 million were stolen from a Swiss exhibition near Zurich.

In fact, the world's biggest art robbery was the one, in which 20 paintings, estimated to be worth US$500 million, were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 1991.

Up to today, none of the stolen works has yet to be recovered.

Many years ago, I had read an interesting report about a purported survey of smart brains among the professions. The armed robbers came up top.

I reckon armed robbers often spend a lot of their time thinking about outsmarting the security systems, planning the heists to the last minute detail, & executing them with military precision, as well as ultimately evading the police manhunts, so much so that their brain cells are being pushed to their maximum threshold.

According to many scientists, brain power is a function of the numerous brain cells working overtime in our heads.

In other words, it is the connectivity of the brain cells & the richness of the neural connections that determine the peak performance of our brains.

Scientists, like Marian Diamond & Ellen Langer, have also confirmed that a stimulating & novel environment often enhances the brain's performance.

Well, for one thing, armed robbers sure know how to make their chosen environments stimulating & exciting.

If you have watched old movies of the sixties like 'Topkapi', & 'The Italian Job' (with Michael Caine), & newer movies like 'The Italian Job' (with Mark Wahlberg) & 'Inside Man', merely watching the adrenalin-pumping action sequences is enough to charge up your brains.

I am not suggesting that you go out & rob the museum or the bank, but just want to remind you of the pertinent expression: Use More of it or Lose it!

Doug Hall, a marketing whiz kid with Proctor & Gamble at one time, & author of 'Jump Start Your Brain', said it best:

"The secret of geniuses' accomplishments does not lie in what they have, but in how they use their brains."


MM Lee Kuan Yew recently assured Singaporeans that Singapore would do well despite the global slowdown.

He noted that economists had forecasted that Singapore would still enjoy 4 to 6% growth, even though the United States economy was faltering.

He also cited two reasons for his optimism:

- Singapore stands at the heart of the world's highest growth region;

- the massive investments that are pouring into the island e.g. the new MRT lines, two integrated resorts; worth a total of some S$20 billion; capital investments worth S$3 billion by foreign investors;

He also highlighted the domestic growth momentum in China & India as well as the buoyant regional economies of Indonesia, Malaysia & Vietnam.

He added that Vietnam would have South East Asia's most lively economy in 20 to 30 years.

What struck me most was his compliments about Vietnamese ASEAN scholars being the most serious, intelligent & reliable.

The first time I had visited Vietnam was around the Christmas Holidays in 2003, together with a Singaporean couple. We had stayed at the Equatorial Hotel in Ho Chi Minh city. We noted that the waiters, waitresses, lift attendants, & even the door lady at the hotel lobby were very eager to speak to us in English.

When I was visiting the ancient city of Hue during the same period, we rented a car. The driver was a young man. Despite his lack of command of the English Language, he was always smiling, patient & helpful. He even took the trouble to go & purchase a coffee decanter & collect a pair of new spectacles, on our behalf when we ran out of time.

Everywhere we went in both Ho Chi Minh city & Hue, the Vietnamese people we met in the hotels, tourist sites & on the streets made us feel really welcome.

From our personal experiences, they didn't hustle foreigners like they do in China.

We knew in our hearts that Vietnam had a great future ahead.

When I remarried with a Vietnamese wife in January 2005, I visited Vietnam in July 2005 for the second time. I had planned to visit the well-known Nha Trang beach resort for a short holiday with my wife. Six of her nephews & nieces, four of whom were just under ten years old, were invited to join us.

When we signed up for the tour, I was surprised to know that the four young kids with us would enjoy a 10% discount on their portion of the tour fees, if they could produce evidence of academic excellence. All four of them enjoyed the offered discount.

Surpisingly, the four young kids were very well-behaved. Each of them carried his or her own haversack with water bottle & snack pack.

For 5D/4N, they stayed with me & my wife in the same room. They did not give me any problem whatsoever. Best of all, they took care of themselves, in bathing, grooming & packing the haversacks. I really admired their spirit of independence.

When we decided to visit a large amusement park in the city, the same discount arrangement was also offered to the kids.

Once, together with my wife, I visited one of those educational institutions that ran day & night skill-based courses for working adults. I was amazed by the huge response as reflected by the hundreds of motor cycles parked outside the building. My wife told me that classes were often packed with participants.

Wow! I told myself that a country that would readily embrace a premium on education for their young population, & that the Vietnamese people were eager to learn & acquire new skills, should certainly deserve a good future.

Today, almost two thirds of the population in Vietnam are under 30. For the last ten years or so, Vietnam has enjoyed an annual growth rate of 8%.

Foreign investors are pumping money into the country. Today, Singapore is seemingly a major foreign investor, with cumulative capital investments to the tune of US8 billion, according to what I had read.

[In Ho Chi Minh city, Comfort-Degro runs a taxi fleet; Capital Land & Keppel Land are building homes near the waterfront; Temasek Holdings have invested in the largest confectionery maker in the country; SembCorp is a lead joint venture partner in the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park;]

Whenever I travel on the streets with my wife on the Honda motor-cycle I can readily feel the energy & vibrancy of the young Vietnamese people. It is more prevalent when we visit the supermarkets, coffee houses & ice cream palours.

My wife & her siblings - eleven of them - grew up in the family-owned fish farm in Thu Duc. They were not rich, but they put a lot of emphasis on education. All the nephews & nieces have been conditioned to perform well academically.

Personally, I know one of my wife's nieces is now doing a PhD in Civil Engineering under a French Government scholarship in Paris. She had secured one of the two prestigious annual scholarships offered after competing with 80,000 other students in the country.

One of her nephews recently graduated with double degrees, one in Information Technology & the other in English Literature. He is currently holding two jobs, & planning to go to United States for further studies in a few years time.

Besides my wife who speaks Mandarin, three of her younger sisters also speak Mandarin. They had attended night school.

My wife has also completed a Conversational English course in the community centre. She is now also comfortable with computers, after a short orientation by me. As a reward, I gave her a Dell Inspiron 1720 recently.


"If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth & power, but for the passionate sense of the
potential, for the eye, which, ever young & ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never."

(Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-1855, Danish philosopher, theologian & cultural critic, who was a major influence on existenialism & Protestant theology in the 20th century)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


According to Barbara Giamanco, CEO of Talent Builders, a leading provider of people development solutions, writing in an article entitled 'The Amazing Power of Deliberate Focus' on the website:

1) Focus is a choice; so choose wisely;

2) The genesis of all the choices is that you need to decide quickly what is important enough to warrant your valuable attention;

3) You've got to focus your attention on those things that help you get what you want;

4) Focus can be tough for all of us . . . the key is to keep that power of deliberate focus flowing constantly & consistently each & every day;

5) "Each passing second is another opportunity to turn it all around" (quoted from the movie, 'Vanilla Sky', starring Tom Cruise & Penelope Cruz);

6) "It takes focused action, personal discipline & lots of energy every day to make things happen." (quoted from the book, 'Power of Focus', by Jack Canfield & others);

7) "Achieving what we want depends on having a definite purpose, backed by a plan, which is then supported by intelligent action." (quoted from the book, 'Think & Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill)


1) What are my attitudes about work? About life? About learning? About myself, my capabilities & my opportunities to contribute?

2) Are there more productive attitudes & paradigms I could embrace that would help me create better results?

[Inspired by Stephen M R Covey's 'The Speed of Trust']


I recall a very interesting anecdote from Singapore's billionaire tycoon Quek Leng Beng, which I had read in the newspapers many years ago.

He was sharing his personal encounters with book-smart managers in his company, whom he reckoned could have costed his company in many lost million-dollar business opportunities.

He mentioned about one particular guy, a scholar holding an impressive list of paper qualifications, who often handed him thick reports. He later found out that this guy also demanded even thicker reports from the latter's subordinates.

So, one day he confronted the guy & asked him whether he actually had time to read all those reports from his subordinates on his table. The guy replied in the negative.

The tycoon soon realised that the guy was so bogged down with reports that he had no time to deal with the real business. To him, the guy was afraid to make mistakes & take risks, when business was all about seizing opportunities & taking risks.

Obviously, the guy did not last long.

These are some of my amusing observations, which have enabled me to appreciate the distinctions between the book-smart & the street-smart:

- the book-smart works with logic & to him, work is serious; the street-smart plays with imagination, & to him, work is fun;

- the book-smart follows the rules & writes between the lines; the street-smart breaks the rules & draws outside the lines;

- the book-smart may think out of the box occasionally; the street-smart always creates new boxes;

- the book-smart is obsessed with minute trivial details; the street-smart goes for the big global picture first;

- when confronted with a half-filled glass, the book-smart can see both viewpoints, half-empty & half-full; the street-smart believes it is the wrong glass;

- the book-smart always look at his watch; the street-smart decides what time it is;

- upon seeing someone doing many push-ups, the book-smart thinks the guy has great strength in lifting himself up; the street-smart thinks the guy has great potential because he can push the earth down;


I have learned this important term from Albert Bandura, a Canadian psychologist specialising in social cognitive theory.

According to him:

"People who believe they have the power to execute some measure of control over their lives are healthier, more effective & more successful than those who lack faith in their ability to effect changes in their lives."

In other words, any person with high self-efficacy can take on the world.

Tactically, he is more inclined to take on a task if he believes he can succeed. In fact, he is most likely to expend more effort & persist longer. He is often encouraged by challenges & obstacles to greater effort, & will attribute failure to external factors. He is generally of the opinion that only his own decisions & actions will shape his ultimate destiny.

Arnold Schwarzenegger said it best:

"As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100%."

Against this backdrop, I will define what self-efficacy is all about, drawing inspirations from many experts in the field:

1) It is the belief in one's capabilities to plan, organise & execute the courses of action required to manage future directions;

2) It is one's beliefs about personal capabilities to exercise control over one's own level of functioning & over events that affect one's life;

3) It is concerned not with the skills one has, but with the judgement of what one can do with whatever skills one possesses;

I fully concur with Dr Bandura's assertion that self-efficacy is a very important attribute for personal success, as it influences:

i) the choices we make in life;

ii) the effort we put into an activity;

iii) how long we persist when we deal with challenges & obstacles;

iv) how we feel about everything;

Frankly, I can readily relate to self-efficacy from my own personal & professional experiences over the years.

When I first embarked on my entrepreneurial pursuits - setting up a strategy consultancy, running a retail store, & publishing a newsletter - during the early nineties, following an established career in the corporate world, I knew I could do what I was dreaming about.

I looked back at my own education & training as an engineer with confidence. I was trained in trouble-shooting & problem finding. I was very good in what I was trained to do.

In terms of professional background, I had gone through all the work functions from draftsman, erection engineer, sales engineer, through divisional manager, marketing manager, corporate planner, special assistant to the Chairman, all the way to general manager & executive director.

A total of 24 years, with regional exposures in Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand & Indonesia.

I knew strategic planning was already my forte. Setting up the strategy consultany was therefore not an issue for me.

I love to read & write. I also love to share with my friends about what I had read. Best of all, I had also one year of experience in writing & editing a free newsletter to friends as a hobby. So, newsletter publishing was a piece of cake.

My only potential problem at the beginning was setting up & running a retail store. For that, it was an entirely new ball game for me.

Despite the handicap, I just went ahead confidently with my formulated plans. My first project was marketing & promoting the PhotoReading seminars from United States, which provided a ready & captive niche for selling my books, audios/videos, & other resources.

I wrote to many book publishers in the United States. I got their names from the bibliography of my favourite books, magazines & newsletters. Some of them just ignored my requests, but many responded favourably.

To project an image that I was a 'big boy' & to reduce international shipping costs from the United States, I even initiated a naive scheme with local freight companies that had already established forwarding connections to the United States.

After much explorations & negotiations, I finally found my freight consolidator at Los Angeles Airport.

Publishers would then ship all my small orders to the consolidator, who would charge a small handling fee per publisher. [Interestingly, many publishers do not charge for domestic shipping within the United States. This worked out beautifully to my advantage.] The consolidator would then organise & consolidate my shipments to Singapore.

Step by step, & through many hard knocks, plus a little bit of imagination & ingenuity, I gradually built up the sourcing business as well as my retail business. Once I had a few good publishers in my store portfolio, it was relatively easy to connect to new publishers.

The first three years was really tough, [My consultancy business was running smoothly, but I had to cease publication of my newsletter after two years; as a result, I had to change strategy quickly, by designing & running my own proprietary workshops], but I persevered & persisted in chasing my own dreams.

Luckily, to my personal delight, it was plain sailing after my third year in business, especially after moving into new & larger premises at the North Bridge Centre.

The rest was history. Self-efficacy had made my day.