Saturday, August 23, 2008


"Insight, I believe, refers to the depth of understanding that comes by setting experiences, yours & mine, familiar & exotic, new & old, side by side, learning by letting them speak to one another."
~ Mary Catherine Bateson, American author, educator & cultural anthropologist; best known for the proposal that lives should be looked at as compositions, each one an artistic creation expressing individual responses to the unexpected, as exemplified in her book, 'Willing to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery';


In seminars or workshops, most motivational gurus or peak performance experts will tell you that your life offers great lessons or ideas for others.

They often use inspiring stories or anecdotes from other people as well as from their own lives to share with you.

Unfortunately, many of them don't give you specific ideas on how to go about it. You often have to figure out the specific tools & strategies to use in your own personal situations.

Specifically for this post, I have synthesised a rough tool-kit to help you draw lessons from your own life experiences so that they can serve as a springboard for further exploration (read: 'learning') as well as valuable ideas for others.

In writing this post, I have drawn my initial inspiration from the work of a motivational guru, a wonderful lady by the name of Falu from Down Under, whose weekend retreat in Singapore I had attended during the end of the 80's.

The rest of the stuff probably has their origins from other motivational gurus I have come across over the years

This is roughly the makeup of the worksheet for distilling lessons or ideas from your own life experiences.

1) Life Experiences:

2) Some Knowledge & Insight from (1):

3) A Valuable Lesson or Idea to Explore:

- Recall your own life experiences; describe what happened, why it happened & how you feel about it; also describe your motives & reactions;

- Here is a quick list of worthwhile experiences to take note of:

1) peak experiences; 2) episodes of misfortune; 3) turning points; 4) impact from significant role models; 5) influence from significant critics;

- Reflect on those things unique to you; if they changed your life, explain why & how;


- what were the positive events? what were the negative events? what were the interesting events?

- what worked? what didn't work?

- what's good & new at the end of it all?

- any surprises?

- any unusual discoveries?

- did I solve any problems with funny, unexpected or breakthrough thinking?

- did I create a new system/process that was adopted?

- did I combine anything to create a new venture?

Further Considerations:

- is it useful to me? what about others?

- how will I benefit from my lesson? what about others?

- is my lesson practical?

- is my lesson unique or is it common knowledge?

- has it been tested further? Does it really work?

Once you have identified your lessons or ideas, they can be evolved, developed & improved, using, say the SCAMPER technique, which I have described in an earlier post;


A quick checklist for self renewal or sharpening your saw:

1) RETHINK: Why?

- Look at your rationale, assumptions;


- Look at your activities;


- Look at your timing or sequencing of activities;

4) RELOCATE: Where?

- Look at your location of activities, physical infrastructure;

5) REDUCE: How much? How often?

- Look at your frequency of activities;


- Look at your human resources;

7) RETOOL: How?

- Look at your technology, competences;

[Source: Unknown]


Google Alert is definitely a great tool for explorers like me.

It has alerted me to the following link to an interesting article about 'anticipatory management', another of my pet subjects.

The article has been written by Stephen Harper & David Clew, both professors of entrepreneurship & management respectively.

Understanding the 'Power Inquisition', the '3 I's of Strategic Learning' & 'Power Knowledge' are definitely worth your while in reading the article.


I have stumbled upon the following recent blog article by Paul Gold, a Performance Enhancement Specialist & Speed Agility Quickness trainer. Here's the link.

Although he talked about the importance of mental fitness & physical fitness on the tennis court, I find that his article gives a fresh perspective about mental flexibility in life, which is my area of interest.

Read it with an open mind, with the view of gaining further insights into mental flexibility for life.

From my standpoint, a competitive game on the tennis court is no different from that on the highway of life.

According to the author, mental flexibility has four critical components: strength, flexibility, speed & agility.

Allow me to recap for readers in the context of the highway of life:

1) strength: allows you to provide a strong resistance to external forces, especially when you are under a high level of emotional pressures;

2) flexibility: allows you to get into many different positions quickly to react to external forces, & to increase your control over a broad range of emotions around the game (read: 'your pursuit in life');

3) speed: allows you to get to a lot of balls (read: 'opportunities') & to move along at pace with the game (read: 'your pursuit of life');

4) agility: allows you the ability to move, stop & change direction at speed without losing control, especially when recovering from negative situations; also, the ability to stay mentally balanced in times of relative disappointment (that separates champions from losers);

Friday, August 22, 2008


"Don't wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions & make them great!"

~ Orison Swett Marden, 1850-1924, one of the earliest & most prolific authors on success achievement; he founded 'Success Magazine' in 1897;


I love to read, even though most of my current reading is confined to business non-fictions.

I read specifically for information, & more importantly, for ideas that come about from the reading.

In that way, I can say that I read for entertainment too, as I am entertaining my brain, intellectually of course.

It is important to read purposefully, meaningfully & productively.

Reading must always serve a purpose. For me, I read only what I need, essentially to meet my personal objectives as a knowledge adventurer & technology explorer.

For productivity, I always make concerted efforts to adapt & apply what I read to my work & my life. As a consultant & trainer, this is a very important sharpening process.

Over the years, I have learned, adapted, experimented, fine-tuned & practised many types of reading strategies. PhotoReading is just one, which I have already talked about.

In this post, I like to share with readers what I have gone through: major types of reading, tips on reading fast, & information gathering techniques, etc.

1) General or light reading:

This applies mostly to newspapers, magazines & newsletters, in addition to popular fictions.

For me, it's always a quick browse. A very quick one for newspapers - about the same time when I sit on a toilet bowl as a morning routine.

I reckon the key in general or light reading is to have a broad brush of what's going on.

For newspapers, I will only slow down when I am reading the editorials, political & economic analyses & commentaries. Oftentimes, depending on the content & complexity, I may even reserve or tear them out for later bed-time reading.

For magazines, I often apply razor-blade reading: I will tear or cut out the good articles, which I often like to keep for future reference.

Sometimes, I may jot down the key ideas in my scratchpad. I often make use of them in my weblogs.

I may also convert them into maps or diagrams for further exploration, using MindManager, SmartDraw &/or Inspiration.

I have stored magazine articles as well as newspaper clippings in my personal library that go back to even the eighties.

2) Previewing or surveying:

This is a very good technique to prepare for a fuller reading, & also faster navigation, which leads to better comprehension of the material.

The purpose of this technique is to get the big picture or bird's eye view in the first instance. A quick snapshot of the information landscape, so to speak. Excellent for preparing oneself to read new books, especially business non-fictions.

Analogically, it's best to think of it as "reconnaissance", i.e to understand the new or unknown terrain of the book, to use a military jargon.

For me, the best way is to start from the end of the book. That's the end summary or epilogue. The latter will always give me a quick overview of whether the book is worth investing my time in reading it.

If proven worthwhile, I will proceed to preview or survey the table of contents, preface, introduction; & flip through the pages to go into those interesting sections, using headings, sub-headings, bold &/or italic prints, chapter summaries, if any, as guides.

From my experience, a preview or survey offers a broad overview of the structural layout of the book, its pattern of organisation, stylistic devices, & also the various locations of useful information, which help collectively in the way-finding navigation when I start to read.

I may even run through the bibliography &/or the index at the back of the book to get a better feel of the new or interesting stuff, if any.

For academic reading, this is really a good technique, especially when one is starting to read a new textbook, as part of coursework for the first time.

Previewing or surveying can also apply to reading magazine articles or newsletters.

3) Scanning:

This applies when I am looking for something specific in my mind, or a single piece of information, just like an entry in an encyclopedia.

I reckon the key is a quick & targetted approach to locating information or answers in satisfaction of a query or requirement.

This technique is particularly useful, especially when one already has some prior knowledge of a subject, & when one is just looking for something to, say, update or fill-up the knowledge gaps, if any.

For example, I already have a fairly good understanding about "developing strategic foresight".

Whenever I come across new book titles in this genre, either hard or electronic copies, I just scan them quickly as I already know what I need to look out for, e.g. novel approaches.

In other words, I am looking for what else is out there on "developing strategic foresight".

I do scanning very often, whenever I hang out in the bookstores.

To do scanning, I suggest first do a preview or survey as described earlier.

4) Skimming:

Skimming is a bit slower, but more thorough when compared to scanning.

From my perspective, I reckon the purpose of skimming is to have a quick round-up of key ideas. It's also useful to use this technique to check out the relevancy of a given text or book.

Generally, it sets the scene for more concerted efforts on my part to read a book more thoroughly.

In contrast to scanning, & for skimming, I will glance through the key sections, just to pick up the main ideas in the book.

I may do some quick scanning first, particularly of the table of contents, the index, &/or the bibliography, then follow by skimming of the inside pages, whenever I am hanging out in book stores.

Generally, skimming is great to use, especially when one has a huge pile of books of more or less the same genre to go through. I often do skimming when I am doing a syntopic read.

For me, I like to consider scanning & skimming as reading on the run, so to speak.

5) Rapid reading:

Rapid reading is slower than scanning & skimming, but more thorough. In a way, one is going for relatively depth in the entire book, in the shortest possible time.

From my experience, it always follows previewing & surveying, especially when the book is found to be worth reading in greater depth.

I reckon the key is to have an adequate understanding of what's in the book within a relatively short time-frame.

The best way to accomplish rapid reading is to use a pacer, in more or less a deliberate zig-zag manner to encompass a broad terrain of the book. For me, I definitely like to use a marker pen - mine is a four colour type + a pencil.

A finger can also be used as a pacer, but not so useful, from my point of view.

In rapid reading, our eyes play a vital role as one needs to use them efficiently to glance at large chunks of text at one go. In other words, using the power of our peripheral vision.

Also, one also need to possess a confident mindset to go with it. Also, one need to trust own sense of closure since reading speed is of the essence.

During the rapid reading process, one also needs to zero in quickly on transition or signal words as way-finding guides to important passages in the text.

Since one has done previewing or surveying as a prelude, then rapid reading usually moves very fast.

I must add, though, it takes practise.

It is pertinent for me to point out that rapid reading is more suitable for business non-fictions as well as the self-improvement genre.

Incidentally, rapid reading is one of the principal components of PhotoReading.

6) Study Reading:

As the name implies, this is the most common approach to any serious form of studying.

Hence, it is more applicable to academic materials, either as part of educational coursework or preparing for a certification examination.

Naturally, MBA coursework also falls under this category.

I reckon the key is a thorough understanding of the contents of the book, as dictated by the syllabus, be it coursework or examination.

Prior to such reading, one must have access to the course &/or examination syllabus to make sure that you have all the right stuff with you.

Next, with the help of the syllabus, one must also know how to identify & segregate the 'core material' (e.g. principal concepts or theories, definitions, etc.) from the 'elaborative material' (e.g. illustrations, examples, anecdotes, etc.). Invariably, most examination questions come from the core material.

From my experience, the best tool to use is SQ5R, which I have already described in my earlier posts.

Additional tool to use with SQ5R: marginal annotations.

It is pertinent to point out that study-reading often entails sustained concentration of the mind as well as re-reading to grasp understanding of those difficult passages in the book, if any.

7) Critical or analytical reading:

To me, this is serious reading with a fine tooth comb, so to speak. So, deep appreciation of the subject is the end result.

In reality, this is a vital component of the study-reading process as described earlier, especially when one is needed to analyse, critique, react to, & understand more deeply the given material.

Again, just like study-reading, re-reading is quite a common feature in critical reading, as every phrase or sentence in the book may be studied in close detail.

I would say the key in critical or analytical reading is a systematic approach to really appreciating a piece of intellectual work, in written form.

Hence, this type of reading is more applicable to literary works, critical essays, legal papers, as well as applied science & technological subjects, include major articles in all fields.

Again, I must say that, in addition to a pacer to guide eye movement, SQ5R is very helpful here, especially the formulation of questions prior to the reading.

The previewing or surveying part of SQ5R will enable one to get a good sense of the structural layout, pattern of organisation, stylistic devices, typographical aids, etc.

A good understanding of common text organisational patterns & transition or signal words used by authors of such works is definitely useful.

Marginal annotations to flesh out key ideas &/or difficult passages as you read are helpful, too.

In the end analysis, I have realised that, even with PhotoReading & other accelerated reading technologies, it is humanly impossible to read all the stuff I am interested in.

Henceforth, I can only choose to read intelligently & selectively.

This is how I see the whole picture of reading intelligently & selectively.

For me, the focus of general or light reading reading, i.e. reading newspapers, magazines & newsletters is "knowing what's really going on out there" & not so much of truly "understanding" everything. Maybe, "keeping abreast of developments" is a better choice of words.

Study-reading as well as critical reading requires not only "knowing what's important", but also a deep understanding of the subject. Maybe, a "working understanding" is a better choice of words.

Comparatively, just for the sake of jogging the mind, I would reckon rapid reading falls somewhere between "knowing" & "understanding".

Previewing or surveying, scanning & skimming are just some of the intellectual means, at least on the selectivity basis, to go about the reading journey.


Here are ten great tips for aging well, especially for those in the 30s &/or 40s, from the Revolution Health Group.

The tips are not revolutionary, but are certainly worth reminding.

Here are the key points:

1) Don't smoke;

2) Get enough sleep;

3) Don't drink too much alcohol;

4) Eat natural foods & whole grains;

5) Actively reduce stress;

6) Learn about core strength & build it (i.e keeping your spine & body stable);

7) Move!;

8) Get some sun savvy;

9) Love the skin you're in (& take care of it sensibly & consistently);

10) Set realistic expectations for yourself;

Thursday, August 21, 2008


1. What should I BE?

2. What should I KNOW?

3. What should I FEEL?

4. What should I HAVE?

5. What should I DO?

6. What should I THINK?

~ inspired by Gerald Haman's Innovative Investigator Questions; he is the brain behind the SolutionPeople innovation consulting outfit;

[Readers can visit his innovation weblog at this link.]


"If you're looking ahead long-term, & what you see looks like science fiction, it might be wrong. But if it doesn't look like science fiction, it's definitely wrong."

~ Christine Peterson, author of 'Leaping The Abyss: Putting Group Genius To Work', which documented the patented DesignShop® multi-sensory, multi-faceted facilitation methodology invented by the MG Taylor Corporation; the author is also the President of Foresight Institute, a nonprofit organization working to maximize the benefits & minimize the drawbacks of coming technologies;


Gut feel or "feeling in the gut" is a natural & yet fascinating phenomenon.

I reckon "intuition" is more an appropriate term for it, although sometimes we also like to call it "sixth sense".

I like to define it as "knowing something but unable to explain it rationally how one knows about it".

When I drive my car into an unfamiliar territory, my gut feel often tells me which direction to move correctly. However, the moment I start to ponder, which also happens naturally, I can feel immediately my "logic sensor" starts to take over.

Momentary deliberation goes quickly inside my head.

That's when trouble often ensues - I mean, making the wrong turn following the momentary pause.

This is always very interesting for me. I always do my best to react immediately to my first natural impulse in such a situation, so as to avoid making the wrong turn.

Sometimes it works fine, but sometimes I fail, to my disappointment as I need to backtrack. Waste a lot of driving time, too.

Frankly, to me, the "logic sensor" in my head is also something I find it hard to fathom, let alone control. That's the head logic I am talking about.

Could it be my engineering training or my early education, which had focused primarily on mathematics & science?

Once I was told by a Hindu guru - that was the early nineties - you could feel it coming via a vibration in your right leg. Regret to say, I haven't had such a personal experience as described.

My beloved Catherine was very intuitive, when she was around. She could often "smell a rat", so to speak, especially when meeting strangers & making decisions about a deal. I trusted her natural instincts many times.

I am often told that women are generally more intuitive than men.

I have also read that in the female brain, the corpus callosum, the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain, is about 15% larger than that in the male brain.

This probably explains the phenomenal speed & agility at which the mutual exchange of information - between facts, logic, sequences, in the left, & images, feelings, randomness, in the right - can take place between the two hemispheres.

Many experts, through their published works [e.g. Frances Vaughn, Ingo Swann, Laurie Nadel, Nancy Rosanoff, Philip Goldberg, Roy Rowan, Weston Agor], as well as successful entrepreneurs [Ray Kroc buying from the original MacDonald brothers is a classic example;], through their published stories, have confirmed that "intuitive sensing" &/or reasoning is an innate ability in all of us.

I like how R Buckminister Fuller once described it: "cosmic fishing" - once you feel a nibble, you've got to hook the fish!

If I were to boil down all that I have learned from the experts & entrepreneurs, it is this simple act in the first instance: just learn to trust yourself!

Just follow your natural instincts is another way to put it.

From my experience, I can safely say it's not easy. It requires many trials & errors, just like my driving analogy. I am still working on it.

Interestingly, "intuition" has its origins from the Latin word, "intueri", which means "to see".

No wonder Volvo, the Swedish automobile maker, likes to use the term, "second sight", to denote it. Please read my earlier post.

So, I reckon "learning to see" or "eyes open wide" is definitely helpful. This was also the contention of Leonardo da vinci. He said, use all your senses, especially the sense of sight.

By its very nature, we have to more aware of our surroundings. About what's going on around us. It goes back to what I have been talking about in earlier posts - developing & sustaining perceptual sensitivity.

The reality is that all of us have the ideas & resources within ourselves - i.e. completely available at our immediate disposal - to solve problems - & of course, to find opportunities.

We therefore have the ability to make good decisions with incomplete data, to paraphrase Joel Arthur Barker.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


"There exists limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind there will always be a frontier."

~ Charles Kettering, 1876-1958, American inventor with more than 300 patents to his name, including the first electric motor ignition system for automobiles;


For many years, I have always been intrigued by the following apt quotation often attributed to R Buckminister Fuller, planet Earth's friendly genius & inventor of the geodesic dome:

"All children are born geniuses; 9,999 out of 10,000 are swiftly, inadvertently de-genius-ized by grown ups.”

This quotation recently makes more sense when I started to read up earlier New York Times reports about Michael Phelps, who has won eight gold medals at the ongoing 2008 Beijing Olympics. [Here's a link to one of the reports.]

"Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus," a kindergarten teacher told his mother, Debbie, who is also a teacher;

"Oh, he’s not gifted," said another teacher;

"Your son will never be able to focus on anything," came from another teacher.

In contrast, when Michael was 11, his swim coach Bob Bowman — still his coach — told the mother.

‘By 2000, I look for him to be in the Olympic trials . . . By 2004, he makes the Olympics. By 2008, he’ll set world records . . .’ [By 15, in 2000, Michael was at the Olympics; at 16 he had his first world record; and by 19, at the 2004 Olympics, he had won 8 medals, 6 of them gold.]

Why is it that many of his school teachers looked at the boy & saw what he couldn’t do?

Fortunately, his mother & especially the swim coach could see the early potential in the wonder boy.

Michael Phelps has credited his recent successes to eight major influences in his life, which include his mother, his two older sisters, & the swim coach. [Here's the link to the New York Times report, 'In Quest for Eight Medals, Eight Influences'.]

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable,
unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts & start searching for different ways or truer answers."
~ M. Scott Peck, 1936-2005, American psychiatrist & best selling author; best known for his 'The Road Less Traveled';


In contrast to my earlier post, 'A Toy Piano Started It All', the legendary Walt Disney, who gave the world a series of memorable characters & entertaining theme parks, once famously said, while standing high atop his vast animation studio empire:

"I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse."


I read in yesterday's Straits Times that pianist-singer-songwriter Peter Cincotti has his grandmother to thank for his prowess on the piano today.

She gave him a toy piano for his third birthday & taught him how to play his first tune, 'Happy Birthday', on the instrument.

He went on to create soulful music on the piano. This youthful New Yorker will be performing in the Esplanade Concert Hall on 21st October as part of the Singapore Sun Festival.

Parents or grandparents for that matter can really be inspiring influences to their children or grandchildren.

I always hold the view that parents are the children's first teachers &/or mentors.

I recall the story about Yoshiro Nakamatsu, or better known as Dr NakaMats in the western world, also Japan's inventor extraordinaire, who once saw his mother struggling to pour kerosene out of a big container while he was a teenager. So he devised an automatic pump.

The inspiration for the device - & indeed his entire life - was his mother.

"Because I loved her very much, I wished to help her," he said. "This was the spirit of invention - love, not money."

Apart from providing inspiration, Dr NakaMats has also credited his mother with providing the foundation for his career. She was, he said, "a very intelligent woman", who educated him in maths, physics & chemistry from the age of three. [I read that a portrait of his mother sits on his desk, & a metre-high print of her leans against a whiteboard behind him.]

In fact, she often encouraged her son to build models of his inventions, & then helped him apply for patents. According to some reports, Dr NakaMats currently holds more than 3,000 patents to his name.

In one of my earlier posts, I have talked about Steve DeVore, founder of SyberVision Systems.

He was renown for his work in visual modeling - how we learn & assimilate (neurologically, psychologically, & cognitively) skills & behaviors from the observation of others.

In reality & with the help of his beloved mother, he overcame his life-threatening bout of paralytic polio during his early childhood by applying the same modeling methods.

This was his real story:

"I remember my mother telling me during my therapy sessions that since I had walked before my polio, I had the memory of walking already within me.

She told me that everything we experience is recorded in our mind & body & never forgotten. All I had to do was remember.

Furthermore, she had me focus my attention on watching my two older brothers walk, run and play.

And then, during our physical therapy sessions, she would have me close my eyes and replay in my imagination the images of my brothers at play, having me pretend I was running & playing along with them.

To the surprise of the doctors, I was able to regain my ability to walk, run, & play. In fact, as a result of the combination of intense physical & mental therapy, I ultimately became quite a decent athlete."

On a slightly different note, I am often reminded of the story about Sim Wong Hoo of Creative Technology, now a billion-dollar global technology company, who credited his sister for giving him a birthday gift in the form of a harmonica during his teenaged years, which eventually inspired him to build the world's greatest sound blaster.


Interestingly, Adam Kahane, an international mediation consultant & former head of Social, Political, Economic & Technological Scenarios for Royal Dutch/Shell office in London, in his wonderful book, 'Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities', explains:

"Problems are tough because they are complex in three ways.

They are dynamically complex, which means that cause & effect are far apart in space & time, & so are hard to grasp from firsthand experience.

They are generatively complex, which means that they are unfolding in unfamiliar & unpredictable ways.

And they are socially complex, which means that the people involved see things very differently, & so the problems become polarized and stuck."

He argues that "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" which he has learned in the 60's actually misses the most important about effecting change.

The slogan should be, he said, "If you're not part of the problem, you can't be part of the solution."

He adds further:

"If we cannot see how what we are doing or not doing is contributing to things being the way that they are, then logically we have no basis at all, zero leverage, for changing the ways things are - except from the outside, by persuasion or force".

Suffice to say, any problem is part of a system, in other words, & if we are experiencing the problem, then we must, by definition, be a part of the solution.

The foregoing book, rich with brilliant insights & inspiring examples, explores the whole concept in great depth & provides many models & methodologies to help resolve conflict through deep listening & regenerative dialogue.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Just a short while ago, I had watched the hilarious comedy, 'Evan Almighty', on StarHub cable television.

In a nut shell, a television newsman, Evan Baxter (Steve Carell, apparently reprising his role in this sequel to the earlier comedy, 'Bruce Almighty', starring Jim Carrey) was elected to Congress with the slogan, "Change the world."

Unfortunately, his major stumbling block was the powerful Congressman Long (John Goodman, in a seemingly understated role).

In stepped Almighty (Morgan Freeman), who appeared to the disbelieving Evan & gently cajoled him to build an ark, just as Noah did before him, & filled it with animals to protect them against the coming flood.

The rest of the movie was real fun to watch, especially with all those animals involving themselves in the construction of the ark, & the eventual flood scene, even though the whole premise of the movie was crazy & also, it was all CGI animation.

Nevertheles, I was intrigued by a dialogue towards the end of the movie:

Almighty: How do we change the world?

Evan Baxter: One single act of random kindness at a time.

As Evan was speaking, Almighty proceeded to write the letters A, R, K on the sandy ground with a wooden stick.

One Act of Random Kindness.

Wow, what a memorable way to sum up the movie.


"If I have been of service, if I have glimpsed more of the nature & essence of ultimate good, if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought & action, if I am at peace with myself, it has been a successful day."

~ Alex Noble

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Here's a link to an interesting article on the aging brain in the Washington Post.

What reassuring me most are the following revelations:

1) we must be willing to put in the work to use our brain, or else we will lose it;

2) the secret to thinking like a young person is cognitive exercise or exercising the mind - our aging brain requires rigorous mental workouts to stay in shape;

3) our aging brain can rewire itself as it retries to cope with the challenges of getting older - an active mind has more "cognitive reserve";

4) "sustained cognitive engagement" or thinking intensely on a regular basis enhances our mental flexibility;

5) our brain is a flexible machine: if we put in the effort - & it takes lots of effort - our brain cells will find a way to stay fit!

6) we can draw inspiration from Dara Torres, 41, now competing in her fifth Olympics in Beijing as a US swimmer; Madonna, 50, currently preparing for her "Sticky & Sweet" tour; & Senator John McCain, 71, attempting to become the oldest first-term US President; even his mother, Roberta, 96, who is still campaigning for her son;

7) the most depressing news about getting older is that it can't be stopped, but we can do something to blunt the adverse effects of time;


In his book, 'Innovation Nation', leading innovation strategist John Kao, describes his real job as that of arbitrageur.

He likes to "take on complex topics - call them emerging agendas or wicked problems - that are beyond the effective range of narrowly defined disciplines & then figure out who is making headway with them."

He draws an analogy of the arbitrageur from the world of finance.

According to Investopedia, "an arbitrageur is a type of investor who attempts to profit from price inefficiencies in the market by making simultaneous trades that offset each other and captures risk-free profits.

An arbitrageur would, for example, seek out price discrepancies between stocks listed on more than one exchange, buy the undervalued shares on one exchange while short selling the same number of overvalued shares on another exchange, thus capturing risk-free profits as the prices on the two exchanges converge.

Arbitrageurs are typically very experienced investors since arbitrage opportunities are difficult to find and require relatively fast trading.

Arbitrageurs also play an important role in the operation of capital markets, as their efforts in exploiting price inefficiencies keep prices more accurate than they otherwise would be."

The author says "his version of arbitrage involves creating value by finding the seams between disciplines & between traditional points of views, by bringing knowledge from where it is established to where it is needed.

Specifically I trade findings about innovation - new methods, big developments - in the global marketplace of ideas.

As an arbitrageur, I have had the opportunity to consider a bountiful array of interesting questions . . .

What I have learned is that innovation . . . emerges when different bodies of knowledge, perspectives & disciplines are brought together."

These assertions from the author remind me of the work of Frans Johansson, who wrote 'The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights of the Intersection of Concepts & Cultures'.

The crux of the Medici Effect: Breakthrough insights occur at novel intersections.

In fact, they are also reflected in the groundbreaking approaches of IDEO, America's leading design firm, as described in the two books by Tom Kelley, namely, 'The Art of Innovation' & 'The Ten Faces of Innovation'.

In a nut shell, breakthrough insights readily occur when we can see beyond our own field of expertise & approach problems actively, with an eye toward putting available information & other resources together from diverse &/or disparate sources in new & novel combinations.

From one perspective, I can see "ideas build on ideas", & from another, it's cross-pollination or cross-fertilisation that adds more kick to the cocktail.


"To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature
of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but
always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom."

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945, German theologian, pastor, preacher, radio broadcaster, & prolific writer in the 1930s & early-1940s; was executed for contributing to a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler & resisting the Nazi regime in other ways;


Since I don't actually spend a lot of my time glued to the television to watch sports, I have just received a breaking news email from the New York Times that Michael Phelps has finally secured his 8th gold medal at the Beijing Olympics 2008.

I reckon he is definitely the greatest athlete in Olympic history after he passed a group of athletes including Carl Lewis & Paavo Nurmi to become the one with the most gold medals.

What intrigues me most about Michael Phelps is not so much his admiration for Mark Spitz, the man whose record of 7 gold medals he has been chasing for several years. In Athens four years ago, Phelps won 6 golds & 2 bronzes.

In fact, I have admired most about his power of extreme focus.

I noticed that phenomenon when he was interviewed while doing his acclimatisation training in Singapore not too long ago.

As reported by the New York Times:

“There have been so many greats who have come before me, and what Mark did is still amazing,” he said.

“It’s a very hard thing to accomplish. I think it shows whatever you put your mind to, you really can accomplish.

“When Mark won seven, he put his mind to something and he did everything he could to get there, and it’s the same thing with me.”

In the same report, I read about the following interesting anecdote:

Michael Phelps' mother, Debbie, received a letter from Barbara Kines, a teacher who had taught the self-described klutz, a real fish out of water on land, in the third grade.

Before he found an outlet for his energies in swimming, Michael Phelps had immense difficulties concentrating and sitting still, leading one of his grade-school teachers to wonder if he would ever be able to focus on anything.

Barbara Kines wrote about how proud she was of Michael Phelps & how, perhaps, it had never been focus he lacked, but, rather, a goal worthy of his focus.

The only loss Michael Phelps sustained all week was for words. How could he explain all that he was feeling?

“If you dream as big as you can dream,” he said, “anything is possible.”


[continue from the Last Post]

The next axiom I want to talk about in this post is:

My mind follows only one direction: the direction of my current dominant thought.

It means, what I focus on & pay attention to, at this very moment, becomes my dominant thought.

Putting it in another way, what I am interested & think about at this very moment becomes my focus for the moment.

Our brain has a built-in or hard-wired sensory regulator, known by the catchy term, Reticular Activating System, or RAS for short. It is located inside our brain stem, at the lower portion of our brain.

It's a complex, densely packed nexus of nerves running from the top of our spinal cord into the the middle of our brain.

In a nut shell, the RAS is our brain's command & control centre.

It gives our brain the natural ability to sort through all the incoming information, thus according us the capacity to scan & prioritise the information in order of importance or relevancy, & then select & implement appropriate responses.

In other words, it tells us what we should pay attention to & what we should ignore. Without it, we probably would have been overwhelmed by sensory overload, since it functions as a gatekeeper to screen & filter out repetitive information, & to detect new &/or novel information.

From the strategic standpoint, I always reckon that its effective functioning is important to both our personal survival & our ability to enjoy life.

The best way to understand how it works is to play a simple two-part game with a small group of friends, say, at home.

For the first part, scan the room for a minute or so, & jot down on a piece of paper what comes to you through all your senses - sights, sounds, smells, touches, feelings, etc.

Then, compare the written notes with your friends. Invariably, you are likely to observe that one or more of your friends may have jot down stuff you never thought of, e.g. a speck on the ceiling, body odour of a friend, aroma of coffee drank earlier, feel of an itch, sound of a boiling kettle in the kitchen, etc.

The point here is this: we often jot down what interests us in the surroundings i.e. what we focus on or pay attention to.

For the second part, scan the room for a minute or so, & jot down objects that are blue & black in colour.

Now, close your eyes, & mentally recall all the objects in the room that were green & yellow in colour during your earlier scanning routine.

You may recall one or two items correctly. From my experience, a lot of people often fail to recall many of those items, even though they fall within your field of vision during the scanning routine.

The point here is this: once we have or given a target, it becomes our point of interest, & our mind will seek it out in the environment.

Next, I would like to transpose this lesson to the real world.

You probably send some time watching television, which often carry car advertisements, oftentimes with fancy CGI animation to wow the audience.

Let's say you are fascinated by the new Nissan Cefiro, & it so happens that you are driving a ramshackle car. You are now toying with the idea of changing the car to the Nissan Cefiro.

Suddenly, to your amazement, you begin to notice that a lot of Nissan Cefiro zipping past your sight on the open roads & expressways.

In reality, those Nissan Cefiros have been zipping right in front of you, but you simply haven't notice them in the first place.

I am sure that you are probably familiar with the old adage: out of sight, out of mind!

That's our RAS at work all this while.

Dr Maxwell Maltz had talked about this phenomenon in his classic, 'Psycho-cybernetics', during the sixties.

Just think of the Tomahawk missile - it's command & control centre is called the 'servo mechanism' - during the Gulf War.

For me, the inherent power of the RAS explains why goal setting is so effective as a strategy for personal growth.

With specific goals in our mind, we are, in a way, programming our mind to go all out to seek stuff that are meaningful & relevant in empowering us to move forward & towards our preferred outcome.

In the same vein, we are always surrounded by opportunity galore. The probabilities of enjoying the fruits they offer depend on one thing only: our focus!

What we choose to focus on is what we end up moving towards.

Constantly, ask yourself:

- what do I choose to see?

- where do I direct my attention?

This also explains why I am so fascinated by enhancing perceptual sensitivity as a prerequisite to creative & innovative thinking. I have already written a lot of posts on this subject.

[to be continued in the Next Post]