Archive for the ‘From The Inside Out’ Category

I Need Help!

Jul 03, 2015 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | From The Inside Out



I read a beautiful story from my quiet time about the St. Olaf Choir from Northfield, Minnesota. They are renowned for making beautiful music and one reason for its excellence is the selection process. Choir members are chosen based not only on how well they sing but also on how they sound as part of the whole. Another reason is that all members agree to make the choir their first priority and commit to a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule.

What caught my attention about this choir is what happens during rehearsals.

“Whenever members make a mistake, they raise their hand. Instead of trying to hide the blunder, they call attention to it!”

This allows the conductor to help each singer learn the difficult part, and it increases the likelihood of a flawless performance.

Last year, I was asked to help support a senior leadership team to align the team’s vision and build collaborative behaviors.

Upon diagnostic, one key contributing factor to the team’s dysfunctional state is their inability to render ‘Vulnerability-based Trust’.

When team members are genuinely transparent and honest with one another, they are able to build vulnerability-based trust. Team members who trust one another can be comfortable being open, even exposed, to one another regarding their failures, weaknesses, and fears. Vulnerability-based trust is predicated on the simple and practical idea that people who are willing to admit the truth about themselves are not going to engage in the kind of political behavior that wastes everyone’s time and energy and, more important, makes it difficult to achieve real results.

The leadership team spent quality time in the past two retreats gathered in conversational circles, created space for thoughts, ideas and shared stories about how they would help one another to take courage in being vulnerable to one another and to encourage trust within the team.

What is stopping you to raise your hand and say “I was wrong”, “I made a mistake”, “I need help” or simply “I am not sure”?

Are you brave enough to be vulnerable?

Practical Wisdom

Jan 10, 2011 // No Comments » // From The Inside Out

My mentor and probably the greatest critic in my life Francis recently told me again; “You think too much!”

I supposed this is not the first and the last time he is going to remind me about my favorite pass-time…(kind of).

But why? Why is it so that I always going into deep thoughts and reflection? Even in casual conversation?

Then it struck me one day. The reason most likely is my need to be RIGHT!

You see, I am afraid to be WRONG. I am brought up in a system and environment that being RIGHT is the right way to be.

But here’s a more scarier thought; the need to be RIGHT could also meant that when I am WRONG I think I am still RIGHT… I will garner all reasons, resources, rules and guidelines and so on to justify that I am not WRONG. Yes, I have been there and done that…have you?

The stories Barry Schwartz related in the presentation were both inspiring and practical. I would encourage you to ask these questions after viewing the video:

  • Are there current situation in my life and at work I am inflexible about?
  • Have I been bogged down by system and processes in my life and at work? If so, what are they?
  • Do I conveniently allow rules and guidelines to dictate my decision making in doing what’s RIGHT? Or…
  • Have I dwell deep into my practical wisdom (virtue, love, moral skills etc) to learn of what might be wrong?

NOTE: Barry Schwartz is one of my favorite speaker in the TED network. His idea and thoughts about practical wisdom though not an original concept but he has put it in way that is easy to understand. If you would spend 23 minutes this month on a video I would strongly recommend you to check it out.

Last note

Now, there is a long distance cousin of being RIGHT; that is to be GOOD! Since young I have always strived to be GOOD at what I am tasked to do. Be it a game of football, a talent competition or a task in my workplace. Not that there’s anything wrong for us to pursue excellence, but in the expense of…?

Francis once reminded me.

“When you are GOOD, you PERFORM.”

“When you are NOT GOOD, you …..!” (try filling in the blanks!)

The problem for needing to be good and performing all the time is that it might take away the element of learning in the process.

I learnt of this experience the most recently in my running. I used to set performance (how fast and far) as an outcome that far superseded any other less tangible experience I got in the running process – such as the sensation on my steps, the sound of my breathing and heartbeats etc. When I switch to paying more attention to my experiences and sensation of the run, I began to learn a far greater deal of my performance than previously. The result – I run further and more consistently, and thouroughly enjoyed most of previously considered mundane runs.

I wish this year can be a year of great learning for you!

Be Still – from Conformity to Mobility

Oct 21, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Change Initiation | From The Inside Out

One of the many miracles Jesus’ performed during His ministry; “Calming the Storm” incidentally is one of the favorite story my kids like in their bed-time story. There seems to be this recurring theme about casting our worries unto His care in the Bible – I think this is more than a promise from God but a command He desires from us.

Be Still – a simple posture of not acting seems to go against the grain of our need to do, act and perform; to think useful, to feel valuable and to be justified.

In my career as a trainer and facilitator, I was privileged to meet with some like-minded people and great thinkers from around the world. One of them is Timothy Gallwey – a pioneer in sports motivation and psychology. Tim wrote the first book “The Inner Game of Tennis” in 1972 and follow-up with a series of Inner Game series in the last four decades. It was his “Inner Game of Work” that brought his theory of human potential to main stream business coaching in 1998 and to Singapore in 2002 during the association’s inaugural Human Capital conference; In which Tim and I met and became friend partly due to our love for the game of tennis. I met with him again five years later in Los Angeles and continue to be amazed with his thinking that has transcend from sports to business to communities-at-large.

One of his conceptual idea about learning is mobility – from Conformity to Mobility; the ability to learn and be aware without being paralyzed by doing and external pressure of producing result. Many of us always think that to perform is to produce, hence there is a great need to act and do. Tim has argued that in order to gain mobility is having the ability to STOP – an acronym he shared to debunk the myth of ‘performance momentum‘ – a term he argued that most of us have habitual actions we do in the course of the day without a moment’s thought of why we do them.

Step Back – to step back means to put distance between yourself and whatever you are involved with at the moment. Step back from the momentum of action, thinking and emotion. Find a place of poise and balance – a place where you can think clearly, creatively and independently.

Think – to stop thinking momentarily in order to think may sound like a paradox, but it is not. Here Tim expounded that there is a shift in the thinking gears, a disengagement of thought in order to either rest or engage in a different level of thinking. Here’s where you begin to ask thoughtful questions.

Organize your Thoughts – Thinking may not usually occur in a perfectly organized fashion. Especially in longer STOPs where there has been creative thinking about problem solving or strategic planning. ‘Organize’ is your chance to pull your thinking together, bring coherence to your plan, consider priorities, and provide a sequence for actions.

Proceed – You don’t stay on the mountaintop if you want to take action. There is definitely a right time to descend from your thinking space, and that should be when things has been refresh and clarified. When the goals and the next steps are clear, and you have been connected to your motivations and surrounding, you are ready to get back to work.

Again, do not hesitate to STOP once clarity fades. The biggest resistance to using the STOP tool is the habitual comfort of ‘performance momentum’, our inherent way of doing and ‘performing’ that may gets in our way of learning and enjoyment.

Points to Ponder:

  • STOP at the beginning and end of each workday or project.
  • STOP to make an conscious change.
  • STOP to address a mistake, ask a question.
  • STOP to correct miscommunication and to check how your performance momentum have impacted on others.
  • STOP to listen, learn, coach and encourage.
  • STOP to rest.

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…

Enjoyment + Learning = Performance

May 13, 2010 // No Comments » // From The Inside Out | Stories Retold

Picture source: xyeshu via Flickr

Picture source: xyeshu via Flickr

I hit (tennis) with a friend some time ago at his lush condo in the eastern part of Singapore on a beautiful Thursday morning.

He started his stretching and pleaded with me to take it easy and claimed that he has not hit for a long while… After a few minutes of half court, he was moving to full court in earnest. In fact he was hitting the ball pretty well with good preparation and full swing…I decided to move to full court to compliment him and we started to trade forehands and backhands. We took a break after about 10 minutes and he was perspiring and catching his breath. We continued after the break and he started to make some mistakes with wild shots…I realized it could be a performance anxiety issue.

I asked: “What are you feeling when you were hitting the balls?”

He replied: “I was overwhelmed, you are like a wall…the balls keep coming back no matter how hard I am hitting!”.

“Are you aware of your breathing?” I asked to his amazement…

“You mean breathing…of course I am breathing…but yes, I think at times I am holding my breath when hitting…but no, I am not paying attention to my breathing…no…” He was collecting and reflecting his thoughts while trying to answer my question.

I suggested: “Let’s try this, the next few hits I would suggest that you pay attention to your breathing, the rhythm, the sound and everything about the breathing. And I mean really putting your focus on the breathing…try to ignore the resulting strokes.”

He appeared skeptical but nevertheless tried…after about 10 balls which lasted more than 10 minutes, this time I made most of the mistakes hitting the balls unto the net. He was hitting the ball with much more consistency, confidence and seems to really enjoying running about…

By this time he was grasping the air of awe and said: “Wow, I never realized about how I am breathing while playing tennis all my life and I really feel good about it this time!”

“…and it was quite difficult trying to ignore the resulting stroke but yes…I realized that I really enjoyed it very much! Thanks man!”, he exclaimed.

Inner Games of Work - Timothy Gallwey

When you are  Enjoying and Learning at the same time..Performance follows. Listen to your breathing the next time you are presenting, managing, negotiating, meeting…pay attention to your form…not performance…as ‘Per’ ‘Form’ – as in ‘One Form’ at a time.

“From the Inside Out” is a fun program using tennis and golf as metaphor to help you identify the ‘game’ that’s playing inside you that more often than not gets in the way of the game you play outside.

If you are exploring the issue on performance anxiety…talk to me.

Empower your people…Challenge by Choice

Mar 23, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | Conversational Circles | From The Inside Out

Photo source: Flickr_Steve.portigal

Picture source: Steve.portigal via Flickr

This is brilliant: if you dirnk, you have a CHOICE – take a taxi ($20) or take a cop car ($1800). Like “click it or ticket” they set up law enforcement as a situation where you are making an informed choice. I think this elevates the community member in the dynamic. Plus, this car is just a fantastic visualization of the two different vectors in that choice. Taxi married to cop-car.

I have been attempting to write about this topic for a while but I was concerned of both the philosophical and psychological implication of its meaning…nevertheless, I CHOOSE to take the risk. So do give me your two-cents worth of thoughts if you think that I don’t make any sense.

The first time I paid attention to the meaning of CHOICE was when my mentor said: “Do take a deeper understanding to the meaning of the word ‘Choice’ for the well being of your life. It may be one of the worthwhile life pursuit after-all”. During my tenured at Singapore Training & Development Association, we used the phrase “Challenge By Choice” as a way to encourage adult learner to be responsible for their choice of action and involvement in their learning. Even then, I wasn’t very sure what it really means…

  • “the challenge is introduced unto you from the outside and you have to make a choice to be subjected to it or not.” or
  • “the challenge is re-introduced by you from the inside and you make a choice to be subjected to it or not.”

I gave some thought to this lately and here’s my observation. In the former scenario, the common responses are ” Oh, I have NO CHOICE but to accept…” or “This is not what I am looking for but I’ve got NO CHOICE…” –  The common post-decision reactions are of blame, haplessness. In the latter, a likely response when people ‘re-introduced’ the challenge intrinsically and make a willful choice on it tends to take ownership of its implication and responsible for its outcome. A common post-decision reactions are usually of ownership of control, pride of trying and learning to take risk etc.

Some years ago, I was tasked to run a workshop for new employees to help them understand the importance of “responsibility”. At that time, I wasn’t sure how a three hours workshop can help young adults to ‘become’ responsible for their action, learning and development; but after much thought I decided to give it a try… I remembered the session started with the participants strolling into the classroom randomly and about a third of them were late for the 8.30am session. By 8.50am, most were seated chatting away with laptop computer up (they seems busy checking emails) and some even sipping coffee and having their breakfast. I stood silently right at the front of the room throughout and observing with keen interest of their actions. By 9.00am, most were alerted by my silence and I thought it was that silence that jolt them into their consciousness. When the classroom came to a complete mute, I asked:

“Why are you here?”

It takes another couple minutes of silence before someone bravely responded: “WE are here because we are told to do so.”

“Thanks for being brave and taking action to respond for the rest. But why are YOU here?” I asked firmly with my eyes fixated on him.

“Umm…I think I am here…because…I have NO CHOICE! The email indicated that the attendance is compulsory and failing to attend will result in having to report to my manager…” he continued bravely with his reasons and garnering some supportive nods and ‘yeses’ from other colleagues.

I sensed a good opportunity to introduce the concept of CHOICE and asked: “If I give you permission to return to your work-station if you CHOOSE not to be here, and promised that I will take full responsibility for your omission from this class, what say you?”

Surprisingly, that reply brought laughter aloud from the class as if they thought I was joking. I retorted firmly: “That promised goes to everyone in this class, if you are not able to take RESPONSIBILITY and make a CHOICE to be here by your will, then the next 3 hours will be a waste of your time and mine.”

No one leave the class that day. We had an enjoyable three hours (or less with an indicative introduction to the workshop).

I know that you prized and valued the opportunity to be self-determining. To be able to make choices.

When was the last time you said: “I have NO CHOICE!”?

Walk the Talk – 言行一致

Mar 04, 2010 // 3 Comments » // From The Inside Out | Leadership Infusion

Photo source: Liu Ying via

Photo source: Liu Ying via

When I first heard of this phrase “Walk the Talk” many years ago, I was mesmerized by the simple yet profound implication of its meaning.

In my previous regional role, I had the privileged to have conversations with colleagues in China on this topic when running a regional program on Personal Leadership. I was keen to find out whether “Walk the Talk” is a western concept or an oriental treasure…my friends from Beijing have enlightened me.

The term 言行一致 can be traced back to China’s early literature treasure of 儒家之 四书五经 which recorded the most vibrant time in politics, military, foreign affairs and cultural incidents and Confucius thinking. Included in 四书, is the book of 《大学》and 《中庸》originated from 《礼记》,and it is from 《中庸》that teaches the Way of Being。 I was told  that this is the fundamental principle of 儒学思想。

The ‘Way’ is to be neutral and balance,and all ways and choices will lead to consequences。One of the way to achieve “中和” or balance is 至诚无妄,which 诚 is the key to the understanding。诚 in 儒家 context is not just about ’honesty’ or ‘frank’ ,it is about being truly and objectively forthright that matter。The practice and meditation of 诚 which supposed to achieve three levels of being are:

  • To Self - 博学之 (to learn),审问之 (to ask),慎思之(to reflect),明辨之(to probe),笃行之(to act)。
  • To Others - 己所不欲,勿施于人。(to not do to others what you will not do to self)
  • Walk the Talk  - 言顾行,行顾言。(consider the act when you say and when acting consider what you have said)

I was mesmerized by the depth of understanding on this simple yet profound phrase of Walk the Talk by my Chinese counterparts…but we also agreed that knowing the meaning is one thing but practicing it with consistency is another…

What do you think?