Archive for June, 2010

Do you have a Simon Cowell in your life?

Jun 29, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation

Simon Philip Cowell

Simon Philip Cowell

Simon Philip Cowell – the British television and music producer, entrepreneur and but more famously known as the ruthless, blunt American Idol talent judge for a controversial nine seasons…

When I first followed the American Idol in their debut season in 2002, I was not entirely surprised with its winning formula as a talent show and most crucially a panel of judges that catered to the innate judgmental needs of worldwide audiences as critic ourselves. The trio of judges in my opinion represents the GOOD (Paula Abdul), the BAD (Randy Jackson) and the Ugly (Simon Cowell) not for their look front but their entertaining quotes and comments. In Simon Cowell, one of his many famous quotes that ring in me for a long time is…

“I find Paula patronizing. It’s as simple as that. Paula is more damaging than I am to these contestants because a lot of people just shouldn’t be singing for a living. – Simon Cowell”

In the beginning, I irks at Simon’s blunt and straight-forwardness. But as the season went, I realized that his frankness actually do more good than harm…though I must say that personally he will do great with some level of tact, but I guess this is how the show sells. His straightforwardness reminded me of someone in the last 10 years of my life that has ‘touched’ me, mentored and practice conversation that goes beyond diplomacy and bluntness…which he first introduced me to the term forthrightness and the concept of Communication Paradox.

Communication ParadoxThe paradox explains that in order for us to be an effective communicator, we need to practice authentic communication beyond the tendencies of being just FRANK; without caring the feeling of others, and the tendencies of being just DIPLOMATIC; stating views in an indirect and evasive manners.  The key is to be FORTHRIGHT and RESPECTFUL at the same time!

Till today, we will meet once almost every 3 months to share thoughts, feelings and for me a time to reflect on my being. Once I complimented him for his truthfulness but he added that the conversation between us can only be manifested mutually because of my willingness to receive as much as he is willing to give. For that friendship, here’s a gift for you, Francis.

“Once I was naive, invitingly you shared your observation openly.

Once I was restless, responsively you guided my enthusiasm forthrightly.

Once I was unsure, brotherly you expressed your ‘first touch’ gently.

Once I was lost, lovingly you provided your counsel heartedly.

Once I was disappointed, boldly you challenged my intention biblically.

Once I was elated, cautiously you show me where the ground is.

I long for our conversation, always precious to me…and you humbly acknowledge that you need it as much as me.”

I am sure we all need someone in our life to be forthright from time to time…have you got that someone?

What the Chinese Classic teach us about the Center?

Jun 17, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

Picture source: ziad_1 via Flickr

Picture source: ziad_1 via Flickr






The Three-Character Classic or San Zi Jing 三字经 (Find out more about the classic from this translated SITE) is one of the Chinese classic text probably written during the 13th century.  For many centuries, Chinese children were taught to recite the classic even before they could read or write through which the Confucianist idea of society being one big family has been programmed into young minds.

Unfortunately, living and growing up in my era of education system in Singapore, I was never given the chance to learn or expose to such classical Chinese text. It was only when I was older and living in Taiwan in the late 80s that I began to be very interested in many things Chinese…though sad but true.

Recently, a friend shared with me his observation of San Zi Jing and told me how he was so captivated by its depth of meaning and philosophical implication. An example is the basic book of the 16th verse:


It reads: “We speak of north and south, we speak of east and west, these four directions depend on the center.”

Center and DirectionI was relating the verse to PeerSpirit Circle process – a highly adaptable modern technology that I am learning and adapt as a principle of Conversational Circle process. One of the key components of the circle structure is ‘the Center’ - a conscious placement and use of the center is one of the primary contribution of circle to conversational methodologies. I found that the four direction when distributed in equals and proportion and with direction and energy – which always begin from the core of its center. The space created between the rim and the center become the common ground for exploration, a placement for respect and responses and an intangible third point between people.

We may also begin to see the Center or the core as a sacred placement where we take directions from. In all that we do, see, decide or believe begin with core values. At ConversationCircles, at the core of our belief is collaborative conversation, the WHY of thinking and acting together.

Do you or your organization have a core beliefs and values? How have you or your organization live up to the values?

Is it time for you and your colleagues to come together for a conversation and to re-visit the ‘center’? To ask questions and seek answers collectively?

What’s in the name of a father?

Jun 13, 2010 // No Comments » // Stories Retold


“Is Liverpool going to win today?” my dad asked.

“Don’t know…maybe a draw.” I responded.

“They are at away ground, so maybe very difficult…” my dad lamented.

“Well, normally yes but the form of some key players have been good lately and….” I went on and on sharing my analysis of my beloved Liverpool Football club which I have supported since the age of 12 years old. All the time our pairs of eyes glued to the t.v. screen as we chatted. I guessed this is how my dad and I have communicated all these years…without looking into each other eyes.

Frankie LimFrankie Lim, a first generation Singaporean born in 1940 and like many Chinese Singaporeans at that time where parents are migrants from mainland China such as Fujian, Guangzhou and Hainan. I was told by my uncles that my dad is one of the smarter siblings of 12 brothers and sisters. He graduated from Chinese High and I still vaguely remembered he brought me to one of their alumni gathering at the school compound at Upper Bukit Timah when I was about 5 years old. From some very old family photo collection, he seems to be very popular in school and during his younger days…he was an athlete, both track and fields and team-sports, and he told me of some stories about how he was interested as a Chinese activist for the then Communist insurgent and underground meetings through some high profile Chinese schools in the 1950s.

My dad is a proud man. For the longest time he has always been self-employed and a businessman. After his first job as a pharmaceutical deliveryman; where he met my mom, he has never been a salary-man for the rest of his career. I know very little of what he does and where does his passive income coming from all these years since retiring very early in his 50s. Perhaps he also know very little of me of what I do for a living and what my aspiration is…you would have imagine what kind of communication we had with each other over the years – something I have never been proud of…

We celebrated his 70th birthday two weeks ago. And I wish him Happy Father’s Day this week…and many more weeks after this!

Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew

Jun 11, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Stories Retold

Cover of Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew

I was at Professor Tom Plate’s public lecture at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in conjunction with the book-launch the other week. I must confessed that the word ‘Conversation’ was the main draw for me even though I am a great admirer of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

I went with so many questions in my mind:

What kind of conversation could an American journalist have with MM Lee especially with so many run-ins he has with western journalism in the past?

What sort of conversationalist Tom would rate MM Lee after spending two-days interviewing him at Istana?

Many would regard MM Lee as a great intellect (which some might agree that they are not so good as a listener) throughout his political career, how would Tom rate MM Lee as a listener?

In the end, I was quite captivated by the story he shared about the time he spent with MM Lee that I felt there is no need for me to ask those inconsequence questions.

Professor Tom shared that his interview with MM Lee was quite an emotional roller-coaster ride. He uses famous movie character and scenarios such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Godfather and even Rush Hour (Singapore Style).

I find it to be one of the lightest reading MM Lee related book by far. Enjoy!

What if they sat in a circle?

Jun 09, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

Leonardo da Vinci - The Lord's Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci - The Lord's Last Supper

What if The Lord’s Last Supper was arranged and seated in a circle instead of the framing that Leonardo da Vinci has famously depicted the world over…

I was keen to know because I am sure the experiences will be quite different for Lord Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles on that faithful evening where He began by washing His disciples feet and ended with breaking bread and drinking wine as a new covenant of His blood and body – in accordance to Paul the apostle in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Last Sunday, as I was at our church worship service and the dedication of Holy Communion; the above question suddenly impressed upon me. I went home searching the scriptures in the bible and asking a few friends and found no explicit record of actual events until I discovered some information from the Wikipedia.

Picture Source: Simon Ushakov via Wikipedia

Through the not so thorough research I found Acts of John – a 2nd-century Christian collection of narratives and traditions, well described as a “library of materials”, inspired by the Gospel of John, long known in its fragmentary form. It contains the episode at the Last Supper of the Round Dance of the Cross initiated by Jesus, saying:

“Before I am delivered to them, let us sing a hymn to the Father and so go to meet what lies before us”. Directed to form a circle around him holding hands and dancing, the apostles cry “Amen” to the hymn of Jesus.

This is a story about council and circle. Do you have one to share?

The Circle Way

Jun 07, 2010 // No Comments » // Conversational Circles

A conversation with an experience management consultant over breakfast sometime ago after an exchange of business card…

“ConversationCircles, interesting! What is it about?”

“It’s about people having conversation in a circle…creating ‘space’ collectively and thinking together.”

“But what’s so new about meeting in a circle?”

“You are right, it’s not new. In fact, it has been around possibly since the discovery of fire. But we may have forgotten…”

“You mean we don’t know ‘How’ to have conversation in circle?”

“There’s a possibility we might have forgotten ‘Why’ to have conversation in circle, and how to ‘Be’ in circle.”

“So do you think people will ‘pay’ you to teach them how to talk??”

“We hope to help people to begin seeing their conversations beyond the technological and conventional structure. The possibility of changing the position of their chair so as to change their perspective…”

We have not met since the last conversation.

When I left my regional corporate role last August and took a sabbatical till late last year, a dusted old book titled ‘Calling the Circle’ resides in my book-shelve for the longest time caught my attention one evening…and the last eight months has been a wonderful journey.

Through the book, I was introduced to Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea. Together with PeerSpirit, Inc. they have been teaching the circle practice for about two decades now. I sensed the calling of doing the work they have pioneered and wanted to know more and got in touch with PeerSpirit in January 2010. This November, I will be heading to Melbourne, Australia to meet them and spend five days with other circle colleagues to share stories, explore possibilities and create synergies. Last month, Christina got in touch with me via my website and I was very encourage by her comment and feedback on the work I have been doing so far…

The Circle Way

Their latest book entitled “The Circle Way – A Leader in Every Chair” was published in April this year and I have since started my second reading…you may get hold of a copy HERE. You may like to visit PeerSpirit and check out the many resources available to host a circle. ConversationCircles will also be hosting a circle (yet to be titled) sometime end of June so do subscribe to our bi-monthly CC Touchpoint and write to me directly to find out more.

Next month, I might be sharing the work of circle with the staff of Singapore General Hospital titled “Conversational Circle – Creating Space…Thinking Together” in their monthly ILearn session. It will be a privilege for me to introduce the circle work to the staff and help them to see meeting beyond hierarchical structure. So stay tune for more exciting stories coming up.