Saturday, January 24, 2009


If you want to get motivated, study motivated individuals.

Thomas Edison had to be one of the most highly motivated men in history. He would not give up.

Tom Carpenter, Senior Consultant & Trainer with SYSEDCOM, a communication skills training consultancy outfit, has written an interesting article as a personal tribute to him, & all who follow the motivational path.

According to him:

1) Maintaining A Dream;
2) Learning From Failure;
3) Managing Time;

You can go to this link to read more about it.


I am still having a huge of stack of selected books in my shopping cart with Amazon.

On top of that, I also have some 120 new books in the "Saved for Later" facility of my shopping cart.

Since I am in no big hurry to acquire them - I still have a huge backlog of books to read anyway - I am probably just waiting for the US dollars to slide downwards against the Singapore dollar.

I don't know why - I just love to buy books, & love to read them. Books are one of my very few indulgences.

Here they are:

1) 'The Re-Discovery of Common Sense: A Guide to: The Lost Art of Critical Thinking', by Chuck Clayton;

2) 'Awake at the Wheel: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an Uphill World)', by Mitchell Ditkoff;

3) 'Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware', by Andy Hunt;

4) 'Timelines into the Future: Strategic Visioning Methods for Government, Business, & Other Organizations', by Sheila Ronis;

5) 'Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World', by Beth Kephart;

6) 'Your Personal Renaissance: Twelve Steps to Finding Your Life's True Calling', by Diane Dreher;

7) 'Breakthrough Thinking: The Legacy Leader's Role in Driving Innovation', by Anthony Lopez;

8) 'Time to Think : Listening to Ignite the Human Mind', by Nancy Kline;

9) 'Masterful Questions', by Michael Stratford;

10) 'Success Intelligence: Essential Lessons and Practices from the World's Leading Coaching Program on Authentic Success', by Robert Holden;

11) 'Have You Ever Had a Hunch? The Importance of Creative Thinking', by Ellen Palestrant;

12) 'Teams That Lead: A Matter of Market Strategy, Leadership Skills, & Executive Strength', by Theresa Kline;

13) 'Visual Tools for Transforming Information Into Knowledge', by David Hyerle;

14) 'Coaching Questions: A Coach's Guide to Powerful Asking Skills', by Tony Stoltzfus;

15) 'Adventures of an Optimist: A Progress Report on the 400 Year Project to Help You Improve 20 Times Faster', by Donald Mitchell;

16) 'Managing the Gray Areas: Essential Insights for Leading People, Projects & Organizations', by Jerry Manas;

17) 'Strategic DNA: Bringing Business Strategy to Life', by Lawrence Hobbs;

18) 'MindLab: A Place to Think', by Bill Welter;

19) 'Opening the Inner Eye: Explorations on the Practical Application of Intuition In Daily Life & Work', by William Kautz;

20) 'How to Be a Genius: A Handbook for the Aspiring Smarty-Pants', by Andre de Guillaume;

21) 'Deep Dive: Mastering the Three Disciplines of Strategic Thinking for Competitive Advantage', by Rich Horwath;

[Note: 'Deep Dive' is the author's 4th book; I have in fact already reviewed his earlier two books, namely, 'Storm Rider: Becoming a Strategic Thinker' (2004) & 'Sculpting Air: The Executive's Guide to Shaping Strategy' (2005) in this weblog.

The remaining 3rd book, namely, 'Strategy Espresso: Triple Shots of Strategic Thinking to Energise Your Business' (2007), is currrently placed in my reading list. I have already browsed it, but have yet to read in depth as intended.]


"Some people see things that are & ask, Why?
Some people dream of things that never were & ask, Why not?
Some people have to go to work & don't have time for all that."

~ attributed to George Carlin, Grammy-winning standup comedian, actor & author, especially noted for his political & black humour;


I have found this unattributed but interesting poem in one of my scratchpads.

Unfortunately, I have also forgotten to record the source.

It's entitled simply: 'WHY WORRY?'

"There are only two things in life to worry about:

Whether you are well or whether you are sick.

If you are well, then there is nothing to worry about.

But if you are sick, there are only two things to worry about:

Whether you are going to get well or whether you are going to die.

If you get well, then there is nothing to worry about.

But if you die, there are only two things to worry about:

Whether you are going to go to heaven or whether you are going to go to hell.

If you go to heaven, then you have nothing to worry about.

But if you go to hell, you'll be so busy shaking hands with all your friends, that you won't have time to worry!

So, Why Worry? Be Happy!"

~ Author Unknown;

Friday, January 23, 2009


One of my good friends in the United States, Dr Robert Alan Black, who runs his own creativity consultancy, shares a very good idea about reading.

He has suggested reading an old book from one's personal library. At least one book a week.

To me, it's a great idea from the strategic thinking perspective.

I recall reading a small book, entitled 'The Art of Strategic Thinking', published by the US-based Foundation of Critical Thinking, as part of their Thinker's Guide Series.

The book authors are well-recognised in the critical thinking community.

They are also the principal authors of the earlier wonderful book, 'Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional & Personal Life', which I have also read.

In fact, their contextual premise is very illuminating, as embodied in all their books & other publications:

"The Quality of Your Life is Determined by the Quality of your Thinking."

The authors, Dr Richard Paul & Dr Linda Elder, share a very interesting perspective:


The two 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 two authors, this expansive perspective would provide us with the ability to step outside of the pre-suppositions & ideologies of the present day & would help us form an informed world perspective.

If we learn to read backwards, we would begin to recognise some of the stereotypes & misconceptions of the present.

We would develop a better sense of what is universal & what is relative; what is essential & what is arbitrary.

I fully concur with the authors.

Thanks, Alan!

Great Minds Think Alike!


I actually have a huge stack of new books I want to read carefully. They are now sitting on a revolving chair just next to my work station.

From time to time, I just grab what fancy me by sight at that point in time, so that I can just decide further on whether I want to read in greater depth after a quick browse.

They have come mostly from Amazon & Kinokuniya Bookstores.

Here's is the current list, not arranged in any particular order:

1) 'The Five Literacies of Global Leadership: What Authentic Leaders Know & You Need to Find Out', by Richard Hames;

2) 'How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business', by Douglas Hubbard;

3) 'Strategy Expresso: Triple Shots of Strategic Thinking to Energise Your Business', by Rich Horwath;

4) 'The Innovator's Toolkit: 5-+ techniques for Predictable & Sustainable Organic Growth', by David Silverstein;

5) 'Edgewalkers: People & Organisations That Takes Risks, Build Bridges, & Break New Ground', by Judi Neal;

6) 'Coolhunting: Chasing Down the Next Big Thing', by Peter Gloor;

7) 'Finding the Priority Path: Overcoming Organisational Obstacles', by Bryant Stringham;

8) 'Total Leadership: be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life', by Stewart Friedman;

9) 'Fast Strategy: How Strategic Agility Will Help You Stay Ahead of the Game', Yves Doz & Mikko Kosonen;

10) 'Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastering for Anticipating & Initiating Change', by Bill Joiner;

11) 'Corporate Agility: A Revolutionary New Model for Competing in a Flat World', by Charles Grantham;

12) 'Blindspots: Stop Repeating the Mistakes that Mess Up Your Love Life, Career, Finances & Happiness', by Steven Simring;

13) 'Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving & Thriving at Work, Home & School', by John Medina;

14) 'Theory U: leading from the Future as it Emerges', by Otto Scharmer;

15) 'The Art of Original Thinking: The Making of a Thought Leader', by Jan Phillips;

16) 'Creative Challenge: Discovering the Innovative Potential in Ourselves & Others', by Alan Rowe;

17) 'Powerful Times: Rising to the Challenge of Our Uncertain World', by Eamonn Kelly;

18) 'Strategic Intuition: the Creative Spark in Human Achievement', by William Duggan;

19) 'Breakthrough Thinking: Brainstorming for Inspiration & Ideas', by Nick Souter;

20) 'The Longevity Bible: 8 Essential Strategies for Keeping Your Mind Sharp & Your Body Young', by Gary Small;

21) '8 Keys to Self Leadership: From Awareness to Action', by Dario Nardi;

22) 'How to Think like a CEO & Act Like a Leader' by Michael Andrew;

23) 'Deep Strengths: Getting to the Heart of High Performance', by Price Pritchett;

24) 'Think Naked: Childlike Brilliance in the Rough Adult World', by Marco Marsan;

25) 'Creative Leadership: Skills That Drive Change', by Gerard Puccio;

26) 'The Way of Innovation', by Kaihan Krippendorff;

27) 'A Mind of Its Own', by Gordelia Fine;

28) 'No Problem', by Alex Lowy;

29) 'Building Personal Leadership: Inspirational Tools & Techniques for Work & Life', by Joe Farcht;

30) 'Mapping & Anticipating for Competitive Advantage', by Alessandro Comai;

31) 'Good Question: the Art of Asking Questions to Bring About Positive Change', by Judy Barber;

32) 'Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Out managing & Out marketing Your Competition', by Guy Kawasaki;

33) 'The Advantage Makers: How Exceptional Leaders Win by Creating Opportunities Others Don't', by Steven Feinberg;

34) 'Creating Market Insight: How Firms Create Value from Market Understanding', by Brian Smith;

35) 'Riding the Whirlwind: Connecting People && Organisation in a Culture of Innovation', by Fons Trompenaars;

36) 'Getting to Innovation: How Asking the Right Questions Generates the Great Ideas Your Company Needs', by Arthur vanGundy;

37) 'The Way of Nowhere: 8 Questions to Release Our Creative Potential', by Nic Turner;

39) 'Foresight: The Art & Science of Anticipating the Future', by Denis Loveridge;

40) 'The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From & How to Have Better Ones', by Andrew Razeghi;

41) 'Change the Way You See Yourself through Asset-Based Thinking', by Kathryn Cramer;

42) 'The Idea Generator: 60 Tools for Business Growth', by Ken Hudson;

Altogether, they certainly look like a huge stack. This has always been the regular habit of mine since my bookstore days throughout the nineties. [I have closed down 'The Brain Resource' in mid-2005.]

To be frank, some of the above titles have been sitting quite idle on my revolving chair for more than a month.

Also, for many of the other titles, I have in fact already browsed them, & even read several relevant passages, but I thought I should read them more carefully.

So, by listing them here, I guess I am just putting a little bit of pressure on myself to get them read & reviewed as soon as possible.

Generally, not all the books I plan to read or I have read will end up in book reviews.

[Please also refer to my earlier post, 'Reading on the Run'.]


I have already embarked on reading two interesting books, namely:

1) 'A Class with Drucker: The Lost Lessons of the World's Greatest Management Teacher', by William Cohen;

2) 'Inside Drucker's Brain', by Jeffrey Krames;

I am more than half way through them, but have yet to complete my reading.

I have originally bought the two books with the view of getting a refresher, & of gaining fresher insights, if any, since Drucker's books have always been my personal favourites.

The problem with me, especially when it comes to my reading past-time, is that I always like to change course mid-way by jumping into some other newer books in my reading stack.

Anyway, coming back to the two books, the first one has been written by one of Drucker's early students joining as part of Drucker's PhD program in management at Claremont Unievrsity during the mid-seventies.

The book has seemingly captured all of Drucker's best teachings, according to the book author, that never made it into the maestro's countless books & articles.

In fact, the competent book author is none other than the author of 'The Art of the Strategist: '10 Essential Principles for Leading Your Company to Victory', which I had read quite some time ago.

The second book is partly based on an unprecedented daylong interview by a business journalist with the then 94 year old Drucker.

In a nutshell, it has more or less distilled the essential lessons from Drucker's six decades of thoughtwares covering leadership, strategy, innovation, personal effectiveness, career development & others.

I have already made a lot of marginal annotations in the two books, & plan to share my reviews with readers shortly upon my completion of reading.

Please stay tuned.


I have just finished my reading of two books:

- 'The Flow of Time & Money: How to Create a Full & Prosperous Life', by Lloyd Watt;

- 'Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth', by Steve Pavlina;

But, the many ideas from the two books have yet to gel completely inside my head. I certainly need that mental consolidation process to complete in order to write my book reviews.

For me, reading books is one thing, & assimilation of the ideas into a personal application requires some introspection & planning.

Reviewing books is a slightly different ball game, but it's serious business, at least for me, because I have to take a stance.

In a nut shell, both books are not exactly ground-breaking, even though I have enjoyed reading them.

In the first book, the author apparently rode on some of Robert Kiyosaki's cash flow ideas, although I like his refreshing visual approach with simple flow diagrams to illustrate his many thoughts about the systems perspective of life, money & time, which makes reading a really breezy affair.

In the second book, the author accorded personal development with a different but motivating spin from his personal perspective, covering 7 fundamental principles & touching on their applications in six common areas of life.

Please stay tuned.


I just love to read, & most of the time I love to read a few books simultaneously.

Meanwhile, I have also just got hold of Ram Charan's new book, 'Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty'.

I am captivated by the inside front page:

"As a business leader today, you face an unprecedented challenge:

the worldwide economic downturn.

Cash & credit are dwindling, sales forecasts are dismal, & morale is sinking.

This is not a time to reflect.

It's a time to act, decide, & energise your people - with urgency.

This is your moment.

Are you up to the task? . . . "

This is followed by an interesting observation from the author in the inside back page:

". . . The chaos of global economic meltdown has imposed an urgency you have never before experienced. It's a scary thing, but it can also be exciting - if you are prepared."

I like it.

There is also a Foreword from Larry Bossidy, former Chairman & CEO, Honeywell International Inc.

I am noting his one particular observation as follows:

". . . The task is not for the faint of heart!",

plus his last four words in the Foreword:

"Read . . . Learn . . . Survive . . . Prosper."

I think he has missed out the most important word: 'Execute!'

Please stay tuned for my upcoming review of the book.


"The wise man doesn't give the right answers; he poses the right questions."

~ Claude Levi-Strauss, 101, French anthropologist (born in Brussels; grew up in Paris) who is well-known for his development of structural anthropology; he is perhaps the most famous in the history of the discipline (with the possible exception of Margaret Mead);


What do I 'know' about myself that might not be true?

What do I 'not know' about myself that might be true?

~ inspired by 'The Braindancer Series: Igniting Innovation' by Dilip Mukerjea, Learning Chef & Managing Director of Braindancing International;


As I am just about to read pioneer trends strategist Gerald Celente's 'Top Trends of 2009', the New York Times sends me a news flash via email that Microsoft will lay off up to 5,000 of its 94,000 employees over the next 18 months, on account of a slowdown in sales amid the global recession.

Gee, that's really bad news!

Very interestingly, I am just reading what Gerald Celente has forecasted about a month ago:

"Exactly one year ago, The Trends Research Institute alerted you to an impending economic crisis we named, the “Panic of ‘08.”

Last year we wrote:”In 2008, Americans will wake up to the worst economic times that anyone alive has ever seen. And they won’t know what hit them. “

Our forecast was right on target. Few others saw the Panic coming . . .

. . . Now, in our “Top Trends of 2009,” we forecast “The Collapse of ‘09,” which in turn will spiral into the “Greatest Depression” - the worst economic conditions America has ever experienced.

That’s not all.

Beyond economics, 2009 will be a tumultuous year.

Trends foreboding and trends promising:

The Collapse of ‘09: Markets will tumble and major businesses will fail . . ."

In another report, he has also written:

"The GREATEST Depression Coming — First Cracks to Become Very Evident in February . . .

This is the time for innovation … The best of times for the people of a higher moral character . . .”

I don't want to sound paranoid, but with his seemingly impeccable track record where he got many of his forecasts right, I reckon it would be most unreasonable not to feel that way.

In fact, I recall a brief & casual conversation during the 'Countdown to 2009 Dinner' on New Year's Eve with my social buddies, one of whom was the former Managing Director of a large American electronic components manufacturer, who didn't sound optimistic even with the economic situation in Singapore.

In fact, today's issue of the Straits Times has carried this large headline on the front page:

"Growth may sink to minus 5%" (for Singapore!)

A 5% slump this year would be Singapore's worst, beating the record of -3.8% seen pre-independence in 1964. The 2001 recession saw a 2.4% contraction.

Our Singapore Prime Minister has already warned all Singaporeans to be prepared for a long downturn, & probably several years of slow growth thereafter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


This morning, my good friend, Dilip Mukerjea, Learning Chef & Managing Director of Braindancing International, popped into my Jurong West turf for a pow-wow over teh tarik (a locally brewed tea with heavy milk concoction) at my neighbourhood Muslim coffee shop.

As fellow explorers in the field of learning & creativity, we always enjoy having a pow wow together once in a while.

He also took the opportunity to present me the latest subscription issues of his brainchildren: 'Ingenius Series', for kids as well as 'The Braindancer Series', for professionals.

Because of the ongoing global financial meltdown & the resultant credit crunch, the marketing efforts of his strategic partners with regard to the above have been somewhat hampered.

Among the many things we talked about, the most interesting as well as intriguing stuff has been the recent forecast of Gerald Celente, a pioneer trends strategist as well as founder of the Trends Research Institute in the United States.

Apparently, Gerald Celente has been spot-on with regard to his earlier forecasts about the fall of the Soviet Union, the 1987 stock market crash, the 1997 Asian currency crisis, & the subprime mortgage collapse in the United States.

Dilip has told me specifically about Gerald Celente's latest pointed forecasts, which have been echoed by a UOB banker he has met recently, as follows:

- by 2012, the United States would be an undeveloped nation;

- there would be a revolution marked by food riots, squatter rebellions, tax revolts, job marches;

- the holiday seasons would be more about putting food on the table, rather than gifts;

- the situation would be worst than the Great Depression;

- the US dollar would be devalued by as much as 90%;

All these forecasts sound like hell scenarios to me, even though I am well aware that the United States is in really bad shape today. I just can't imagine how the world would look like in those forecasted times.

Nonetheless, I certainly like Dilip's immediate response: there would be opportunities from all these crises!

After the pow wow, I immediately emailed the above information to an old pal of mine, who also happens to be a trends forecaster. He didn't disagree with the forecasts totally, but mentioned that the US dollar just couldn't be worthless to that extent. He also added that it would be rather difficult to see beyond this year.

I guess we just have to be prudent in our expenditure.

I also believe that it is always good to touch base with old pals. Just to get that extra ears & eyes to what's going on around the world.


"The quality of your life is determined by the quality of the decisions you make, which is determined by the quality of questions you ask, which is determined by the quality of your education."

~ Brad Sugars, business coach from Down Under;

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I just happened to stumble into the corporate website of dating & EQ coach, Susan Dunn, while surfing the net for more information about the Prussian general, Karl von Clausewitz.

Susan Dunn has apparently written an ebook entitled 'Clausewitz: On the Winning of a Woman'.

Since details of her ebook are sketchy, except for the price listed at US$49.99, all I can gather so far is that she has made use of "Clausewitz's theories of strategy for war to apply to the winning & keeping of a woman, the most important conquest of all".

She has also added that "Clausewitz once said that a strategy without a heart is no strategy at all".

One particular observation of hers really stands out from her ad:

"No one starts a courtship - or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so - without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that courtship & how he intends to conduct it."

Naturally, it makes sense, but I am amused by her obvious analogy to executing a war strategy.

I recall a very old black & white Chinese movie that goes back to the late fifties, when I was a young teenager with a penchant for movie-going.

The movie was "Qing chang ru zhan chang" - translated literally, in Mandarin, it means "the romance zone is just like the war zone". The English title was "The Battle of Love".

The two principal movie stars were the late Linda Lin Dai & Peter Chen Ho (nicknamed "skinny monkey").

Unless you are my contemporary, you are unlikely to have any inkling.

Nevertheless, Susan Dunn's work as described above resonates with my memories of the above-mentioned Chinese movie.

BOOK REVIEW: 'ICONOCLAST: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently', by Dr Gregory Berns

In the first place, I have been rather attracted by the title of this book, 'Iconoclast' which I have always thought it means "a nerdy guy" or maybe even "a nut case".

Now, I know: an iconoclast is one who breaks conventions or bucks the trends, especially against overwhelming odds, & yet able to remain steadfast in his or her individualistic pursuits.

To be clear, the author has deliberately operationalised the definition of an iconoclast as a person who does something that others say can't be done.

In Singapore, Sim Wong Hoo, founder & chairman of the billion-dollar global technology outfit, Creative Technology, comes quickly to mind.

Since he was a teenager, he has had this propensity to think differently, & his unwitting brushes with our pen-pushing law-abiding bureaucrats during the early years have been legendary, especially with regard to the 'No-U-Turn' syndrome or NUTS, as reported in his semi-autobiography, 'Chaotic Thoughts From The Old Millennium'.

[If interested, you can visit this link to order it, in the event that you can't find it in the stores.]

Since this book has been penned by a neuro-scientist, it has taken diligent efforts on my part to read it, as it's quite heavy-going. Luckily for me, I have a deep interest in brain stuff.

That's to say, the book is not tool-specific &/or application-friendly for the reader.

In reality, one has to read it carefully to get to the ideas of implementation in one's own sphere, as the author likes to throw up varied insights here & there within the dense passages, often filled with neurological foundations - actually, from neuro-economics - to support his thesis.

But I must say, it will be worth your while to read it because the brilliant author explores the many constraints on innovative thinking, as well as challenges commonly held assumptions about human nature.

To my great delight, he uses vivid accounts of exemplary innovators, many of whom I am already familiar with - Nolan Bushnell, Walt Disney, Florence Nightingale, Richard Feynman, Martin Luther King, Henry Ford, Pablo Picasso, Ray Kroc, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Jonas Salk & Steve Job - & many unknown others from a wide variety of disciplines to reveal the inner workings of the iconoclast's mind.

In a nut shell, what the author is contending is that we can become iconoclasts as long as we understand, pay attention to, & take care of three things in our lives:

- how we see the world (perception), & how we translate our perceptions into actions, as iconoclasts perceive things differently & act on them fearlessly than other people;

- how we deal with our own fears of the unknown, uncertainty, failure & feeling of stupidity in front of peers (fear response);

- how we interact with - especially when selling our unconventional ideas to - other people (social intelligence);

I like to take this opportunity to share with readers my major takeaways from as well as personal reactions of the book:

i) our brains work on a fixed energy budget; hence they always take shortcuts in the interests of efficiency - this means that they often draw on both our past experiences & other people's opinions to make sense of the world; in some ways, we can blame our evolutionary pressures;

ii) how we see the world is learned through experience; everything we sense has multiple interpretations; hence the one that is ultimately chosen is simply our brains' best guesstimate;

iii) the most effective solution is to bombard our brains with things we have never encountered before - to me, this mean we must constantly expose ourselves to new & novel experiences; only then will our brains be forced out of the efficiency mode & reconfigure their neural networks to entertain fresh insights;

iv) the problem with novelty is that for most people, it triggers the fear response in our brains, especially the fear of uncertainty & the fear of public ridicule;

v) almost every decision we make must be considered in the context of how it might affect the other people in our lives - that's where social intelligence comes in handy!

vi) humans do not like asymmetry as a general rule;

As a result, I reckon it is often difficult to break away from ingrained habits, especially in the way we always look at the world;

Many creativity gurus, especially James Adams, had written about this subject of perceptual shifts. His book is 'Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas'.

That's also why, from my experience as a coach, when people are asked to draw an imaginary creature from outer space, they invariably will draw a symmetrical one - with two or four eyes, &/or with two or four legs.

No wonder, even Hollywood producers want to play it safe.

Can you imagine the audience's reaction - which affects box office receipts - to the Alien or Predator running on one leg?

vii) we have a natural blind spot into both of our eyes - interestingly, cats & dogs don't have blindspots - & this phenomenon is unique to humans, resulting in our brains filling in with their best guesses of what should be out there in the world;

To me, this is not so bad when compared to the more deadly kind of bindspots - the acquired ones, which are analogous to our experience-based categorisations.

viii) iconoclasts do differently from other people in the way they categorise & label what they see; that's to say whether one person sees ugliness or beauty in asymmetry is entirely a result of categorisation & labelling;

ix) because of the built-in distributed processing power of our brains, we can reprogram our brains to perceive things differently - wow, good news!

x) the key to seeing like an iconoclast is to look at things that you have never seen before;

Unfamiliarity forces our brains to discard the usual categories & labels of perception & create new ones; that's to say our brains constantly need some sort of fresh kick starts;

No wonder, according to the author, when our brains are repeatedly presented with the same visual stimuli, the neurons in our visual system continue to respond, but with decreasing vigor;

Sad to say, repetition may be the mother of learning, but when it comes to brain efficiency, or visual creativity, it's a stumbling block!;

xi) sometimes a simple change of environment is enough to jog our perceptual proclivity; a more drastic change of environment - like globe-trotting & hitch hiking - is even more effective;

xii) new acquaintances can also be a source of new perceptions; 'familiarity breeds contempt' & 'variety is the spice of life' now make more sense!

xiii) a change of vantage point may also be sufficient to yield new perceptions;

All these kick starts remind me of the significance of mindfulness as postulated by Dr Ellen Langer of Harvard University & 'insight restructuring' or 'provoking insight' as propounded by Edward de bono;

xiv) we use all of our brains - just not all at the same time; also, our brains always adopt the path of least resistance;

xv) imagination or visual creativity stems from our ability to break categorisation & labelling;

xvi) in order to think creatively, & imagine possibilities that only iconoclasts do, one must break out of the cycle of experience-dependent categorisation & labelling - now, we can blame our schooling, especially in Singapore, which favours exam-smart students!

xvii) the frontal cortex, which contains rules for decision making, can reconfigure neural networks in the visual pathways so that we can see things that we didn't see before simply by deploying our attention differently - so, come to think of it, Edward de bono has been right all along: what do you choose to see & where do you direct your attention;

xviii) novel stimulus - people, places, things - is the key to jolt our attentional systems awake & reconfigure both perception & imagination; the more radical & novel the change, the greater the likelihood of new insights being generated;

That's why when you are stuck with a problem in the office, it feels good just to take a walk outside, besides getting some fresh air!

xix) an effective strategy to fight categorisation & labelling is to confront them directly; the author suggest using analogies - a technique already proven effective by the Synectics problem solving methodology since the sixties; to William Gordon & George Prince: you were right on!

xx) today, the major stressor for most people stems from social reasons.

Social stressors come from conflicts with spouse, bosses, & competition with peers. Add on top of this an increasing perception of lack of control over the environment, & you have a recipe for ongoing stress that takes a toll on the body . . . As the flashpoint for the stress response, the brain is the organ that initiates the cascade;

I am not surprised to learn this, as the HeartMath people have long maintained that stress is often the problem of perception & communication;

Personally, I also feel their Freeze Frame methodology for stress relief is a powerful antidote;

xxi) the author has an interesting proposition to deal with the fear of the unknown:

One is proactive, prevent or limit our brains from making unpleasant associations that they will remember;

The other is reactive, acknowledging the fact that unpleasantness is unavoidable but need not be paralysing . . .

Instead of trying to eradicate the fear response, a more reasonable approach is to examine & reappraise the situations that tend to set off the alarm, & use the prefrontal cortex to inhibit or override it;

Remember the pain/pleasure scenario from Anthony Robbins?

xxii) I like the author's suggestion of Baynesian updating - rarely used in daily decision making - which is the statistical process of using new information to updating probability estimates when reappraising ambiguous circumstances or risks. The strategy is to view them as opportunities for knowledge updating - this is just a form of reframing our minds;

xxiii) Paradoxically, physical exercise, which is a short term stressor, is perhaps the best remedy for chronic stress;

xxiv) the 'Law of Large Numbers', though mathematically rock solid, is fascinating; that's the power of the group or 'group think' which often comes into play when an individual is making multiple interpretations of visual stimuli, because an even more potent source of categorisation that affects perception: other people;

xxv) the author suggests one possibility to deal with 'groupthink':

Isolate oneself so that one doesn't have to face others' opinions;

Another solution, in the spirit of Richard Feynman, is to develop a thick skin & simply not care what others think;

There's still a third possibility, from the iconoclast perspective, recruit just one like-minded individual to fight your war!

xxvi) Fear is easily recognisable - I agree, it's just "false evidence appearing real".

One only needs to listen to the body's responses to know that one is scared. But once fear is recognised we must bring online cognitive processes to deconstruct what the fear is. Only when the fear is broken down into its component pieces can it be eliminated. The key is recognising the fear in the first place & not make judgements while under the influence of fear;

I hold the view that fear has also to do with our own belief system as well as as our self esteem or feeling of being capable & lovable;

xxvii) the power of social connectedness as described in the book is also fascinating; so is the concept of mere exposure effect where one increases the familiarity - our brains love familiarity - of one's idea with the intended audience;

Actually, it's just plain public relations; this is then extended through whom-you know & who-knows-whom;

So, the six degrees of separation now makes sense!

xxviii) it is important to remember what Warren Buffet once famously said: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation & 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

So positive reputation becomes a premium when building a social network.

This is because, according to the author, our brains are wired under the assumption of reciprocity. Every social interaction is undertaken under the assumption of tit for tat. This biological golden rule means that we must approach every interaction as if the roles will be reversed someday.

xxix) novelty equals learning, & learning means physical rewiring of our brains;

This certainly resonates with the pioneering work of Dr Marian Diamond of UCLA in the late eighties. She has argued relentlessly that a new & stimulating environment enhances the regeneration of our brain cells.

On the whole, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading & assimilating from the book, except for the last part, the 'Appendix: The iconoclast Pharmacopoeia', which I thought it has been somewhat of an intellectual mumbo-jumbo by the author.

All I can make some sense of from here is that, just stay away from stimulants!

Nonetheless, I must also add that this is the first time that a neuro-scientist has masterfully weaved together a wonderful tapestry showing the interconnectedness of our vision, perceptual shifts, power of imagination or visual creativity, fear response, social interaction & networking, & purposeful actions, at least from the neurological standpoint. The author certainly deserves my kudos!


"Every day cannot be a feast of lanterns."

~ A Chinese proverb;

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: 'TRAINING YOUR BRAIN FOR THE OVER 50s', by Terry Horne & Simon Wootton

This book is actually a small part of the 70-year old plus 'Teach Yourself' series, which includes over 500 titles on self-improvement.

The singular aspect of the book that had attracted me to purchase - & read - it is the two expert authors, who also wrote the wonderful book, 'Strategic Thinking: A Step-By-Step Approach to Strategy', which I had already reviewed in an earlier post.

In a nut shell, with this book, you can, to paraphrase the authors, "add years to your life as well as life to your later years", as it is targetted primarily at those readers in the 50+ or so.

Content-wise, it consists of two parts, stretching just over 400 pages, with the first part covering the factual or research stuff; the second part, the exercise or workout stuff, involving some 300 problems to boost your memory & your intelligence.

Reading the first part is breezy, at least for me, but the second part needs some diligent efforts & hard thinking on reader's part.

Although not exactly ground-breaking, much of the research findings covered in the book are interesting & reassuring to note:

- the physical state of our brain as we age is not determined by our genes; it is a lifestyle choice;

- the more we train our brains, the higher performance becomes & remains;

- our brains are the basis of our freedom to choose: "I think, therefore I am" becomes "I can think differently, therefore I can change";

- use it as much as we can, it can get even better;

- our minds can continue to ripen till the day we die; ripening of the mind takes places through experience; to extract maximum value from our experiences, practise reflective thinking;

- there are many exciting & enjoyable things that we can do, both to exploit the maturing power of our brains - they actually get better & better at thinking as we get older - & to defend against the three dreaded Ds: Disability, Dementia & Degenerative disease - we need to make sure that our physical lifespan is matched by an extension in our healthy lifespan;

[Interestingly, protecting that power from disease becomes a lifestyle choice & the book explains how to make that choice.]

- Optimism, humour & thoughtful conversations are important in developing intelligence, as well as in deepening intimate relationships;

The two expert authors have also deliberately put forward this important statement: far from considering retiring, we should be pursuing our interests & curiosity, & promoting - & extending - our career horizons.

As a matter of fact, I like to share with readers a cue from one Singaporean (Daniel Koh) in his early seventies, who continues to climb tall mountains & visit hostile environments, like Antarctica, around the world. He says ageing is a mindset, & prefers the term "retyring": getting yourself a brand-new set of wheels for a new lease of life.

My favourite chapter is naturally the one which the two expert authors talk in breath & depth about the use of applied thinking, which requires creative, critical & reflective thinking, & all three improve with age. I certainly like their checklists &/or questions-to-ask.

Because "work" in today's knowledge economy usually means brainwork, staying "a head at work" today means thinking ahead. Fortunately, its comfy to know that the older we get, the better we become at thinking ahead.

Almost the whole spectrum of what we need to do to keep our brains fit at 50 & beyond is adequately covered by this book - physically active; mentally & intellectually active; emotionally vested; socially active; maintaining a balanced diet, & sustaining meaningful relationships, except for spiritual alignment, which I thought should also have been touched upon.

Last but not least, the book has useful recommended readings at the end of each chapter. Also, the appendices at the end of the book are great references.


I have stumbled upon a free on-line cognitive fitness survey from the UK-based Cognitve Fitness Consultancy.

They have designed it to help you to identify those areas where you already think effectively and those areas where it would be beneficial for you to develop your current thinking skills.

It takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Upon completion, your Cognitive Fitness profile will be sent you immediately in pdf format.

Here's the link.


"Clausewitz summed up what it had all been about in his classic 'On War'. Men could not reduce strategy to a formula. Detailed planning necessarily failed, due to the inevitable frictions encountered: chance events, imperfections in execution, & the independent will of the opposition.

Instead, the human elements were paramount: leadership, morale, & the almost instinctive savvy of the best generals."

"The Prussian general staff, under the elder von Moltke, perfected these concepts in practice. They did not expect a plan of operations to survive beyond the first contact with the enemy. They set only the broadest of objectives & emphasised seizing unforeseen opportunities as they arose.

Strategy was not a lengthy action plan. It was the evolution of a central idea through continually changing circumstances."

~ Jack Welch, 74, Chairman & CEO of General Electric between 1981 & 2001; he has gained a solid reputation for uncanny business acumen & unique leadership strategies at GE; he remains a highly-regarded figure in business circles, due to his innovative management strategies & leadership style;


Yesterday, I just happened to browse some magazines at a language training centre in Jurong East, while waiting for my wife to attend her twice-weekly 1-1/2 hour evening English Language lessons.

[Normally, I bring along my own books, one or two of them (plus my faithful scratchpad), to read while waiting. I often like to browse around during my breaks.]

I came across an ad from MindChamps in an old issue of the 'Popular' magazine.

The caption read: "Give Your Child the '3 Crucial Minds' to Achieve Success in School & in Life!"

Then, the ad listed the 3 'crucial minds':

1) The Champion Mind;

2) The Learning Mind;

3) The Creative Mind;

I thought to myself: maybe they had read &/or had been influenced by Howard Gardner's latest book, 'Five Minds for the Future'.

[The above book talks about developing personal mastery & a multi-faceted approach to deal with a turbulent world, through:

- a disciplined mind: to know how to work steadily over time to improve skill & understanding;

- a synthesising mind: to take information from disparate sources, & make sense of it by understanding & evaluating that information objectively;

- a creating mind: to revel in unasked questions, & uncover new phenomena & insightful apt answers;

- a respectful mind: to appreciate diversity & welcome differences between human individuals & between human groups so as to understand them & work effectively with them;

- a ethical mind: to fulfill one's responsibilities as both a worker & a citizen;

There are some close parallels with the 3 'crucial minds' of MindChamps.]

Actually, as I read, the Champion Mind refers to a winning mindset.

I reckon one can equate it with the mindset as epitomised in the Adidas ad: 'Impossible is Nothing'.

That's to say, a winner never quits, & just like what the ad had said, diligence would bring you closer to your goals.

The Learning Mind refers to the importance of learning how to learn.

Futurist John Naisbitt's exhortation during the late eighties in his debut book, 'Megatrends', comes quickly to my mind:

"In a world that's constantly changing, there is no one subject or set of subjects that can serve you in the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your lives. The most important thing is to learn how to learn."

I also remember back in the seventies or so, futurist Alvin Toffler had once drove home a very important point about the need to "unlearn, relearn & learn" in his writings.

To me, the Learning Mind boils down, in essence, to intellectual curiosity. Curiosity about the world around us.

Curiosity about what makes us tick. About how things work.

At a deeper level, who we are & what we are doing here, & why.

With curiosity, learning automatically becomes fun & exciting. Surpisingly, interest shoots up, & interest permeates all learning.

More importantly, learning is not just confined to schooling, but also to the real world i.e. life-long pursuit on the highway of life.

I would even emphasise self-directedness in the learning pursuit, so that the learning process adds value to your own life more quickly.

With self-directed, life-long learning, learning opportunities abound, & all we need to do is just open our minds:

- "street university": in the streets, through deliberate social interactions with people & events, &/or "hard knocks" through direct personal experience;

- "invisible university" (thanks to learning innovator Ronald Gross): through deliberate involvements with books, magazines, newspapers, radio & tv broadcasts, webcasts, podcasts, blog posts, online forums, surfing the net, conferences, seminars, workshops, public talks, trade exhibitions, product promotions &/or displays, etc.

- "automobile university" (thanks to master motivator Zig Ziglar): supplementary learning through audio books, while commuting or waiting in line;

The last one, the Creative Mind refers to the desire & ability to find solutions to problems, now only in schoolwork, but also what goes on around & beyond the school.

More specifically, I am talking about the importance of thinking creatively, analytically & critically. Also, from the systems perspective. After all, everything is connected to everything else in the universe.

It's extremely gratifying to know that our younger generation of today is exposed to so much readily available learning opportunities.

Come to think of it, we adults should also pursue likewise, as parents got to play their vital part too in nurturing the future generation.


According to Larraine Segil, reportedly one of the world’s top thought leaders in strategic alliance methodology, & writing in her book, 'Dynamic Leader Adaptive Organization', here are the 'Ten Essential Traits for Managers' in turbulent times, apparently drawn from interviews with more than 250 CEOs & senior executives from the world’s most successful corporations:

1) Fearlessless - the courage to act;

2) Completion: the ability to complete;

3) Commitment - being emotional vested;

4) Inspiration - the ability to motivate;

5) Assuredness - knowing what you want;

6) Penetration - being of the people & building personal equity;

7) Intelligence - the ability to achieve your potential;

8) Energy - opportunistic optimism;

9) Integrity - the ability to build trust & credibility;

10) Perception - being in the customer's mind;


“A true man will speak, not in humble whispers, lest he offend potentates and powers, but in clarion tones, swerving neither to the right nor to the left, till at last his words of fire burn through dull understandings and into cold hearts.”

~ The Iconoclast weblog;


According to Stephen Covey, there are 3 constants in life:

1) Change;

2) Choice;

3) Principles;

Monday, January 19, 2009


"Don't listen to those who say, 'You're taking too big a chance.' Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most important, don't listen when the little voice of fear inside you rears its ugly head and says. 'They're all smarter than you out there. They're more talented, they're taller, blonder, prettier, luckier, and they have connections. I firmly believe that if you follow a path that interests you, not to the exclusion of love, sensitivity, and cooperation with others, but with the strength of conviction that you can move others by your own efforts, and do not make success or failure the criteria by which you live, the chances are you'll be a person worthy of your own respects."

~ Neil Simon, 81, playwright & screenwriter;

[He is the world’s most successful playwright. He has had dozens of plays and nearly as many major motion pictures produced. He has been showered with more Academy and Tony nominations than any other writer, and is the only playwright to have four Broadway productions running simultaneously. His plays have been produced in dozens of languages, and have been blockbuster hits from Beijing to Moscow. His true success, however, is in his unique way of exposing something real in the American spirit.]


I have stumbled upon this interesting guy by the name of Ammon Shea who has read the Oxford English Dictionary from cover to cover & even wrote a book about his personal experience.

The book is aptly entitled: 'Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages'.

I understand there are only 26 chapters, apparently corresponding to the letters of the alphabet.

Attracted by the tagline:

“I’m reading the OED so you don’t have to. If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on...”

the book is now in my shopping basket with Amazon as it is not available locally.


"Everything begins here with our purpose. It's very simple. We provide branded products that improve everyday lives. The values of the company are integrity, trust, ownership, leadership, passion for service and winning . . . Then, we turn to strategy which is choices. Our whole focus has been to grow and profit from the core - and that means core businesses, core capabilities, core technologies . . . Then, selecting, developing, training, teaching, and coaching the leadership team. They are the leadership engine . . . It's one team with one purpose and one dream and one set of strategic choices."

~ A.G. Lafley, President, CEO & Chairman, explaining the storyline for the future success of Procter & Gamble, with regard to making critical strategy decisions, as reported in the CEO Magazine;

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Where can I put myself so that my brain does not possess an easy time in predicting what is next?


I just read from a weblog of the Gaia Community that, according to psychologist Daniel Coleman, author of 'Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ', & drawing on inputs from Thomas Hatch & Howard Gardner, the following four separate abilities are important components of inter-personal intelligence:

1) Organizing groups:

– this is the essential skill of the leader, which involves initiating and coordinating the efforts of a network of people;

- on the playground, this is the child who takes the lead in deciding what everyone will play, or becomes team captain;

2) Negotiating solutions:

- this is the talent of the mediator, preventing conflicts or resolving those that flare up;

- people who have this ability excel in deal-making, in arbitrating or mediating disputes;

- on the playground, they are the kids who settle arguments on the spot;

3) Personal connection:

- this makes it easy to enter into an encounter or to recognize and respond fittingly to people’s feelings and concerns – the art of relationship;

- such people make good “team players,” dependable spouses, good friends or business partners;

- on the playgropund, these children tend to be best at reading emotions from facial expressions and are most liked by their classmates;

4) Social analysis:

- being able to detect and have insights about people’s feelings, motives, and concerns;

- this knowledge of how others feel can lead to an easy intimacy or sense of rapport. At it’s best, this ability makes one a competent therapist or counselor;


“The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial human relations techniques (the Personality Ethic) rather than from our own inner core (the Character Ethic), others will sense that duplicity. We simply won't be able to create and sustain the foundation necessary for effective interdependence.”

~ Stephen Covey;


". . . For the heart is an organ of fire."

~ by Ralph Fiennes, in the role of Count Laszlo de Almásy in the poignant movie, 'The English Patient' - it's about the story of a Hungarian map-maker (employed by the Royal Geographical Society to chart the vast expanses of the Sahara Desert along with several other prominent explorers) & his dying memories of the romance that tragically altered his life. Burned horribly in a fiery plane crash while crossing the Sahara Desert during WWII, he was tended to in an old Italian villa by a Canadian nurse, with ghosts of her own, & haunted by a thief seeking answers for a crime from his past;


Nightingale-Conant, reportedly a world leader in personal development programs since 1961, has narrowed down five character traits that ultimately determine the livelihood of one's achievement.

I don't think I can dispute their conclusion.

What I have done here is just throw in some of my favourite quotations to reinforce the five character traits:

1) Discipline;

from H Ross Perot, American businessman & founder of Electronic Data Systems:

"Something in human nature causes us to start slacking off at our moment of greatest accomplishment. As you become successful, you will need a great deal of self-discipline not to lose your sense of balance, humility & commitment."

2) Passion;

"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."

~ Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, 1851–1929, French soldier, military theorist, and writer credited with possessing "the most original and subtle mind in the French army" in the early 20th century;

3) Risk;

"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."

~ Pablo Picasso, 1881–1973, Spanish painter & sculptor, who was one of the most recognized figures in twentieth-century art forms;

4) Optimism;

Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, 1861–1941, a mystic, poet, visual artist, playwright, novelist, & composer from India, said it best:

"I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can't make it through one door, I'll go through another door - or I'll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present."

5) Interpersonal Finesse;

I reckon Stephen Covey puts it best in perspective:

“The ''Inside-Out'' approach to personal & interpersonal effectiveness means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self, with your paradigms, your character, & your motives. The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making & keeping promises to ourselves precede making & keeping promises to others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves.”


With a little bit of wisdom on hindsight, I can more or less come to the conclusion that, to pursue a change in one's life pursuit, or to undertake a detour on one's highway of life, one only needs to look at the big picture & focus on answering these three pertinent questions:

1) Where am I now?

2) Where do I want to go?

3) How do I get there?


"I do not believe in referring to ageing as the sunset or twilight years, I prefer to think of it as the golden years . . . I have two ages - my outside age is 72, but my inner age is 35. It's a mindset."

~ Daniel Koh, 72, who trekked to the base camps of the Himalaysa' Annapura & Machhapuchhare in 2002 & Chile's Torres Del Paine in Patagonia; he suba-dived in Sipadan last year; as a matter of fact, he would tell you to spell "retired" with "retyred", meaning you get a brand-new set of wheels for a new lease of life;