Archive for July, 2010

Life in four-twenty – Which stage are you in?

Jul 29, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Change Initiation

Picture source: Life by Kerbbi via Flickr

Picture source: Life by Kerbbi via Flickr

A recent UN released list of countries by life expectancy rated Singapore’s overall life expectancy from birth is at 80 years old. I thought that’s quite a long time to live on this earth – Well, depending what do you do with it!

A conversation I had with my mentor some years ago enlightened me about how I can choose to see my life in different stages, hence how I might be able to use it purposefully. Here are the four stages of twenty years I have learned:

Learning – The first-twenty (Birth to 20 years)

Without doubt the first-twenty years is the time we spend most in learning. This is not to say that we don’t learn after this stage, in fact lifelong learning is what keep us going throughout our life time. But we do spend the most time at this stage learning from school, our parents and friends. We experiment with our growing up, our potentials and interest. We learn via our physiological, psychological and social changes largely during the first twenty years or so. We are at our most rebellious,  we fall in love, we learn about friendship and camaraderie. We learn a lot about our fear, like and dislike, values and faith etc. For men in Singapore, I guess the learning would probably peak when we are enrolled in National Service which is a very steep learning curve for most of us.

Building – The second-twenty (21 to 40 years)

Physically and mentally we are probably at our best in the second twenty years. In Singapore societal norm, many of us will starts our career in our early or mid-twenties depending on your academic route. As we embarked on our career choice, this also could be a time for many of us to be involved in some form of serious relationship especially so when we begin to find our financial independence. I sensed that many of us will faced lots of uncertainty in the first 10 years of the second -twenty. We may move from one job to another, we might faced disappointment in our relationship (hence, emotionally we may lack maturity). Most of us would get married in late twenties to early thirties. Building relationship, family, financial prowess, home, career and I think this also could be the critical twenty years that we shape our idiosyncrasies.

Extending – The third-twenty (41 to 60 years)

Some says that life begin at forty. I am at this stage at the moment. I sensed that it got a lot to do with how we managed our second twenty. For me, its kind of a catch-up as I somehow lost focus in my early twenties. At this stage, we begin to extend our career to its full potential (and income), we also begin to extend our family tree, have more children, and for some lucky ones grandchildren. For some, we might also begin to experiencing some body-aches and health scares. We begin to see the importance of extending our life span so that we may enjoy the fruits of our labor. At this stage, we tends to extend our knowledge, experiences, know-how; both at work and social spaces. We begin to take on roles such as managers, leaders,  elders, mentor and coach. Some may spare no efforts in extending their reputations, titles, expertise and so on…

Giving – The forth twenty (61 to 80 years)

This is the season of giving. A time to contribute back to the place/people you have so benefited from…But don’t get me wrong, we ought to be giving at any stage of our life in any way we can. But there are so much to give when you begin the final twenty; your time (for those who are very successful career wise in third-twenty), your experiences and knowledge, your money (yes, you can’t take it with you can you?). What else? Your advice and positive influences…and many would argue that that is why our Minister Mentor would continue to be an valuable asset to our new generation of leaders.

I begin to realized that managing each twenty with care is so critical to how well we can best serve our purpose. For example, if we do not spend our energy and focus on the first twenty in learning, we may need to do catch up in the second twenty and what may not have fulfill in the second twenty might have to play catch up in the third-twenty and so on so forth…

Which twenty are you in right now?

What is your purpose in life that makes the present twenty clearer to you than ever before?

Why are you hired for?

Jul 28, 2010 // 2 Comments » // HR Insights

You should know what are you hired for…but have you ever ask WHY?

Here’s a recent conversation with a mutual friend who’s thinking about leaving a position that he took up less than 6 months ago.

“How’s things lately?”

“Work-wise not looking up, pal…getting tired of the politics at workplace.”

“Tell me more, what happen?”

“Actually, I am beginning to enjoy my role and handling the responsibilities with confidence; recruitment, headcount acquisitions and so on…but I dread the politics and micro-managing style my new manager brings with her from the public sector…”

He went on for the next 10 minutes without a script like a seasoned screenplay-writer. He vividly described the drama being unfold in the office like an episode out of a BBC award winning mockumentary “The Office” -  which has spin-off to many version in Europe and US.

“I am sure you know what you were hired for…but do you know why?”

“Umm….never thought about that. Why huh?”

Some years ago, I asked the same question about why am I hired into a position or role. What are the basis for the hiring person/people to fill the role that he/she is tasked to do. It’s easy at the first level of recruitment screening process; eligibility, suitability, experiences, qualifications and so on…But when it comes to the big decision-making for the reporting manager (the person that this role report to), I discovered there is more than just the factors mentioned above.

For the role that you are hired into, generally there are three broad categories:

Helper – I want you to be a pair of ‘hands and legs’

You are being engaged (hired with agreed compensation) as a pair of hands and legs. You are valued for your past experiences, your ability to ‘run-the-miles’ with task that are being assigns and largely able to take instruction to go about doing the work that’s expected of you. You may not be valued for your ideas, resourcefulness and initiatives depending on overriding situation such as personal ego and hierarchical structure etc.

Expert – I want you to be able to solve problems (for me first, then yours)

You are being engaged as a problem solver (or sometime famously dubbed as firefighter). You are expected to solve problem that are expected of us and provide some level of initiatives within the role and accountability. You may not be valued for your resourcefulness and initiatives beyond your level and role. Structurally, organization leaders tend to build experts around them to help them to be effective in their work.

Partner – I want you to be successful in your role (so that I can be successful in mine)

You are being engaged as a trusted partner. You are value for your expertise, insights, ideas and the ability to challenge assumptions and status quo. You are given space and time to explore options and empowerment to exercise initiatives within your level of influences. You and I must find alignment in our commitment to our collective goals…in another words; Your success and failure are mine.

I understand that at different juncture of our career life-span we may experience the different roles above that we are hired for…Nevertheless, I think it is critical to begin to ask ourselves some questions about the WHY of hiring.

I find it interesting to get to the crux of WHY we hire…and many time we avoid asking these questions:

  1. Why is there a position to fill? Who’s role was it originally? Is it a new role? Why is there a need for this role?
  2. Why the predecessor left? What happened? Is there a need to review the roles and responsibilities?
  3. Is there someone within the organization can fill this position? Why and why not? Who?
  4. Can the role and responsibilities be taken by existing team members? Why not?
  5. What are the competencies needed to be successful in the role? Is there a need to change? Why and why not?

And when the above (and possibly more questions) have been exhausted, before you rush out there to fill the position because you have the budget or because your manager or business push you to do so, ask again:

  1. Who should be involved in this hiring process? Why should they involved? Are they committed to the process?
  2. When can we start and end? How critical is this to the business? What are our alternatives? What’s our budget?
  3. How should we go about getting the right people? How should we interview for this position?
  4. How would this hiring complement our business strategy? What is our value proposition?
  5. Why we think that anyone would be keen to assume this role? What is our plan for this role?

The questions above just keep popping out of my head as I write…hence, it may not be very well researched and studied. But I do think that it is quite common-sense to a large extend as inviting people into the organization is not (and NEVER) like deciding to buy a piece of furniture or office equipment.

The other question I would invite you to think about…What you think you are currently hired for? WHY?

The Myth about Team-building – Build What?

Jul 23, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Change Initiation | HR Insights | Team Intervention

Picture source: Spain Team by prismatico via Flickr

Picture source: Spain Team by prismatico via Flickr

Team-building has been within the theory and practice of Organization Development (OD), but from schools to non-profit organizations, sports arena to political scenes, it can be applied to almost any context. Almost everyone will be involved in some form of team-building in their lifetime wherever they play their roles…But have you ever ask the question:

“What really is team-building?”

“What are we actually ‘building’ when we team-build?”

“For what? Why?”

If you ask someone who has initiated team-building the reason why they do it you will be surprised with the many responses…

  1. To motivate them…so that they can perform to what’s expected of them.
  2. To build trust…so that they are able to resolve conflict and perform.
  3. To bond them…so that they can work well across their roles and function.
  4. To better communication…so that they can work well with one another and perform.
  5. To skill them in working in teams…so that they understand how to be a team member and perform.
  6. To “incentivise” them…after all they deserve a break! (after that, they better perform).
  7. To have fun…because we believe in having fun in the work we do. (so that we can perform better).
  8. To energize them…there has been a dipped in performances lately.
  9. To do what other teams have been doing…after all it is an “in” thing nowadays and we happen to have the budget!
  10. (Fill in your say…)

It is not difficult to realize that one of the key expectation for most team-building initiatives are about performance; there are many team or group performance/effectiveness/development model researched, selectively:

  • Tuckman’s Group Development Model
  • Tubbs’ System Model
  • Fisher’s Theory
  • Richard Beckhard’s Team Effectiveness Model
  • McGrath’s TIP Theory
  • Belbin’s Team Inventory
  • Drexler Sibbet Model and many more…

But have we really take a step back and ask…what have we done (team-building) in the past that we have yet to do? Have we seriously ask WHY we team-build before the how and what? Or maybe we seriously need to consider what’s there to be done before and after team-building? What can we learn from team-building? About our people, our people’s manager, our leaders, our system and processes, roles and accountability, our relationship with one another?

Yes, there is always a place for team-building to induce the fun and playful elements. What about using fun and playfulness to gain entry to the hearts and minds of the people? Would there be a time when people get tired of fun and playful team-building? Can team-building take a dimensional change of its purpose and intention? If we have a valuable window of opportunity to help teams develop using the context of team-building, would it be a pity to let that slips?

I was giving this a serious thought some years ago and compared a group/team to a pool of water forming and moving in a concerted direction to serve its purpose/goal. It may grows in size (new members), reduce (members leave), quench thirst (meet objectives) and so on…moving in the direction decided by the organization body. I realized that for the water to stay relevant and useful it should be examined and evaluate from time to time…The three stages that I discovered were:


At some point, the ‘group’ (water) need to stop doing (moving) what has been deemed useful or detrimental to their performances. By freezing, the ‘group’ may begin to examine the group elements by its actual size, volume, weight and shape.


Once the elements have been evaluated, the group will begin to unfreeze (a calculated process) by asking important questions such as why, who, what, when and how the team can perform well again.


A collaborative and effective teams with intentional leadership are able to refreeze at specific point of time to regroup and collect and change to a new form of water with renew goals, roles, processes and relationship.

Many of my peers and senior practitioners that I shared with have agreed that team-building has taken an ambiguous positioning in the context of OD. From event company to hospitality industry, many would claim that they are able to help you to “build-team”. Therefore I urge you to re-examine the purpose and reason for you to send your team for team-building program.

Ask the question: “Why? For what?”. If you are unsure of the purpose for your intended team-building, let’s have a conversation.

The longest tennis match…and the meaning of competition.

Jul 14, 2010 // No Comments » // From The Inside Out

Wimbledon 2010

World record breaking match between John Isner (USA) and Nikolas Mahut (France)

- 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7), 7–6(3), 70–68
- longest match: 11 hours, 5 mins
- longest set: fifth set 8 hours, 11 mins
- most games in a set: 138 in the fifth set
- most games in a match: 183
- most aces in a match by one player: 112 by Isner
- total aces in a match: 215 (together with Mahut’s 103 aces, the second highest number by a player in a match)
- most consecutive service games held: 168 (84 for each player)

When the news flashed across the bottom of my T.V. screen, it didn’t hit me the significance of this Grand Slam 1st round tennis match at the famous All England Club. As a tennis fan and a social player myself, I started to scout for more information and that’s so easy now a days…after reading some of the many tributes and news articles coming from around the world, I decided to blog-a-post to commemorate this historical match.

Many tennis fan who play the game a tad seriously will agreed that tennis is a game of the mind as much so as its demand technically. I would not qualify myself to share expertly the technical expect of this beautiful game as my recent 6-0, 6-0 defeat to a friend reminded me of my realistic tennis grading and wobbling knees…but having spend some years studying the game in its ‘inner’ expect and meeting a great teacher of the modern sports psychology – Timothy Gallwey who wrote the first book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’, it was natural for me to ask the question:

“What was in their mind this whole 3 days slugging out at the court?”

“What were they playing for? Prize-money? Pride? Points?”

…and most importantly for the work at ConversationCircles: “What’s the meaning of competition I learn from this match?”

In contemporary culture, there is a great deal of opinions about competition. One school values it highly, trusting that winning is the way forward and the reasons for survival and even credit it as a natural instinct. Another school treated competition as unhealthy; that pitting one against another is divisive, that it leads to enmity and therefore lack of cooperation. Those who value competition tends to enjoy sports such as football, tennis, rugby and so on…Those who are not will rather enjoy recreation such as jogging, swimming, frisbee. If they do insist in playing tennis or golf, they may go the route of “non-competitively”. Their maxim is that collective enjoyment is better than competition.

So is there meaning in competition?

To be exact, “What’s the meaning of winning?”.

I asked deeper: “Is there a value to winning?”

I once had a conversation with an avid skateboarder who has skated for many years. I began by pointing out that skating is a form of recreation which didn’t involve one in competitiveness. He asked:

“But don’t skating compete against the conditions and elements at the park?”

“Yes, but you don’t compete against anyone; you are not trying to beat someone to win, do you?”

“No, but we are trying to hit a height and reach the floor safely!” “And yes, the real point for us skateboarder is to get in the flow of the obstacles and elements and perhaps achieve oneness with it.”

Skate_Dave GormanAfter showing me some of the pictures and videos of his stunts that it suddenly hit me that he was right; he does want to just go out there and have fun, yet he keep looking for more challenging parks and more sophisticated obstacles (sometime annoyingly in public) to test his skills he think he can handle. If he just want to have fun, he can just do it repetitively at a familiar park. Why would he move from one park to another? I am sure he value the challenges and obstacles it present. He value the obstacles which draw his greatest efforts. It is only the most challenging parks that he is required to use all his skills, concentration and his courage to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacity and his true potential. The potential may have been within him but until it is manifested in action, it remains a secret hidden from himself. The obstacles are a necessary part of self-discovery. I realized from his sharing that he is not out to prove himself, he is simply exploring his latent capacities.

I used to look at skateboarding ‘lowly’ as a sport and to some extend the public nuisance it brings. But the sharing open up my eyes to the meaning of winning. His sharing help me to understand that winning is about overcoming the obstacles presented to attain a goal, but the value in winning can only be as great as the value of reaching that goal.

Reaching a goal sometimes may not present as valuable as the experience that come in making your best effort in overcoming the obstacles. Hence, the process can be more satisfying than the winning itself. It’s strange but true, after that 6-0, 6-0 drubbing I actually felt good competing with a player light-years younger (in sporting terms) and enjoyed the process much more than his joy of winning (I think)!

In saying so I am sure the thoughts about winning may begin to diminish in their mind as quickly as the daylight in court no.18 at Wimbledon in the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. This is definitely an extra-ordinary match that call for exceptional human spirits and courage. Many people says that there was no looser in this longest tennis match in history. I would take a step further and comment that we all loose by not learning valuable lessons from it.

“From the Inside Out” used the game of tennis to help you discover the innate potential to perform and identify the self induced barriers that often gets in the way. Call us to find out more.

PS: This is officially the longest blog-post till date – a record! I hope you’d enjoy reading as much as I’d wrote it…

The Past that Changes the Future

Jul 09, 2010 // 2 Comments » // Change Initiation

Picture source: Past, Present and Future by hazevi via Flickr

Picture source: Past, Present and Future by hazevi via Flickr

A quote by a Hong Kong film veteran Suet Nei, in her 60s, on the need to count your blessings caught my attention…

“At 50, you may die any year. At 60, you may die any month. At 70, you may die any day. At 80, you may die any moment.”

Two years ago, I was facilitating a program in Guangzhou, China and begin the class with a question:

“How many of you believes that your past shapes your future?”

Among the twenty participants, many hands were raised and I drew two big circles on the whiteboard representing the past and future. I asked again:

“Do you think you can change the past?”. A firmed “NO” rang across the class and someone immediately responded:

“But we can change our future!”.

“How? May I ask?” as I sensed that they are getting it… “By changing the present!” most nodding in agreement and smiles.

“How can you change the present?” I persisted and sensed participation and learning.

“By making informed CHOICE to the best of our ability…” came a firm reply by a lady (Ms. Gan Xi) whom I still remember her name till today as she help me to learn more in-depth about the very concept.

“Tell me more…” I invited her as I sensed her enthusiasm.

She continued: ”In fact, by making informed choices in the PRESENT which impact and shape our destiny, in a way it shapes our PAST in the PRESENT because all the decision that we made now will become PAST…therefore, in a way we are ‘changing’ our PAST for the FUTURE. Though we can’t ‘change’ past PAST, but to large extend we can begin shaping PAST in the PRESENT to determine the FUTURE.”

The class went on to deliberate the concept in a conversational circle and I was so pleased that the concept introduced in ‘static’ form was taking a ‘dynamic’ direction in their sharing.

Are you making CHOICES now that might change the PAST for the FUTURE?


Circle in a storm

Jul 06, 2010 // 5 Comments » // Conversational Circles

Center of Circle - ConversationCircles

Center of Circle - ConversationCircles

What do they have in common?

A Harvard undergraduate in his 20s with a career in financial management

A senior HR manager in her 30s with a manufacturing firm

A certified tour-guide in his 50s with years of experience in the construction industry

A pre-university graduate in his late teens awaiting national service enlistment

A business development manager in her 30s with a multinational consulting firm

A professional facilitator in his early 40

A financial controller who has live and work in Singapore for the last 7 years

A friend and I. Nothing in common perhaps, and most do not know each other before last Saturday.

We gathered in a circle on a Saturday morning despite the overcast weather and started talking.

IMG_3940I started the conversational circle with a poem, shared the Intention – We agreed to gather for circle experience and practice with no personal agenda and motives, no practical and extrinsic goals, no discussion and understood that this was no ordinary meeting. With some intense frowning and worried look, the Checked-in calmed nerves and released inhibition. Someone volunteered to be Guardian and smiles returned to the social gathering level and suddenly conversations started to flow…

IMG_3958The phrase “speak my mind” was placed in the center and Talking Piece was passed round to galvanize maximum listening and speaking. Not to my surprised, the power of circle enable thoughts and listening to flow deep and wide. As I was hoping that time stood still except for the conversations…an unusual storm (in Singapore but not till lately) gathered pace and starts raining down unto our circle space. We shifted our seating arrangement twice to avoid the rain but the storm seems to challenge our intention ever more fiercely…and to avoid being drench, we have to disband our circle to look for sheltered cover.

As I was wondering how we will regroup and realized that nothing I have read in the circle work so far prepared me for such an emergency…I panicked. What heartened me was that despite the threatening storm and chaotic moments, no one in the group shows the intention of abandoning the circle conversation. Everyone was trying to encourage one another and help out in making sure that the circle is ready to reconvened whenever opportunity arise.

I stood there enthused “But they were strangers before…?”

Eventually, a friend asked “Do you WANT this to continue?”

“Yes, I DO” came my firm reply but still not sure how…

“Then lets find a way to make it happen!” a response more assuring than mine.

IMG_3982The friend went to the visitor center at HortPark, asked for room availability, paid with his credit-card and in no time the circle continue in a safe, enclosed and comfortable room with the Talking Piece regaining its momentum. As the storm continue to rage outside…the conversations flourished within. We realized that while the sharing got deeper, the listening got fonder. It was a pity that someone has to leave early while others craving for more…but what’s important was that we persevered when the storm thought our intention would crumbled under its rage. We Checked-out with everyone sharing their personal reflections and learning. When the Guardian rang the bell to close the circle conversation, I sensed that most were glad that they answered the circle’s call…

I hope that we gave as much as we received.