Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

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 I used to set performance (how fast and far) as an outcome that far superseded any other less tangible experience I got in the running process – such as the sensation on my steps, the sound of my breathing and heartbeats etc.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!

Our Circle in Daylesford Melbourne, Australia.

Nov 29, 2010 // 6 Comments » // Conversational Circles | Stories Retold

Friends of ConversationCircles

Friends of ConversationCircles

A circle was called from 12th to 17th of November at a beautiful country side of Victoria, Daylesford. Together with Christina and Ann, we were called to be in a circle, listen, responded and reflected at a deep level that is beyond the description of words. For me, the five days has open my hearts to the meaning of conversation…

I wrote this just a few days before my 7 1/2 hours flight to Melbourne, Australia.

To end, we must have a beginning.

But there is no end to the circle.

How can there be if there is no beginning?

But we can pause, adjourn, stop or even digress…

We don’t need an agenda, objectives or even so often prized ‘outcome’ to help us start and end a conversational circle.

We do need intention, choice, respect, curiosity; and the ability to embrace and celebrate differences.

Indifference among us will deplete the energy within the circle that holds the wisdom of those called to the circle.

Our circle

I am still not sure what I actually meant but I did wrote to help me raise a question;

How can the circle help those who are indifference?


I got a glimpse of what’s install for the rest of the five days when we came together in a circle on the first evening on Friday, 12th November. A beautiful setting of 22 chairs in a room full of arts and decors, awaits us all amidst the green surrounding of gump trees, ponds, birds and bees…a sight to behold for a city dweller like me indeed. This was what’s written on the first page of my note book that accompanied me throughout the five days:

We do not ask what others may speak…until we inform them how they will be listen to.

What are the conditions that allow the soul to show up?

I held my breath…and the only reminder of my being was to be opened.

That night I couldn’t sleep (in fact, for the rest of the nights). I wrote this;

The Courage to try; is the Courage to fail.

The Courage to express feeling; is the Courage to be vulnerable.

The Courage to think; is the Courage to be thoughtful.

The Courage to ask; is the Courage to seek.

The Courage to respond; is the Courage to be responsible.

The Courage to love; is the Courage to give.

When I checked-in my luggage at 6kg on the day of my departing flight from Singapore, the smile from the counter staff seems to suggest that I am in for a cold chilling trip to Melbourne. I thought I know my geography and its supposed to be end Spring and sunny Summer…how wrong I was and the second day was getting chiller. But warmth was my experienced in the circle when jumpers and winter cover were offered even before I asked for…More warmths were being felt throughout the few days with Story Councils, Appreciative Circle and role-plays of actual life-cases. These interactions were given new life not just in the act but in our hearts. This was what I wrote on my third sleepless night:

The intricacy of the circle is limitless. Every details of its processes have such great impact on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of all those presence in the circle.

Therefore, it is of utmost care and responsibility of the circle host to make caring choices in inviting, involving and evolving the process for the greater being of the whole.

I suddenly felt that I am truly honored to be called a steward but at the same time burden with responsibility.

I also felt a sensed of being born into the circle family – that I can and I will hold its rim, learn, practice and evolve this art form so that someday it will ‘live’ unto the social fabric of our cultures and values.

Centering our Intention

Centering our Intention

Like a story shared; “If you start the fire, others will come.”

More practicum from the third day onwards. The circle continue its charm with simplicity and beauty. The value of sharing and learning from others continue to hold the rim together. I was constantly reminded of the very quote that caught my eyes on the first night when I walked into the room:

In every journey there is a secret destination of which the journeyer is unaware…

Welcome to the mystery!


It spoke right into my heart from day one. It still do till now…

We were given a glimpse of The Art of Hosting which comprises of social processes such as the PeerSpirit Circle Way, Appreciative Inquiry, Word Cafe and Open Space; which all has a common archetype of gathering and having conversation in circles. As the days of sharing coming to end soon, the question in me continue to cry out silently:

“How can the circle help us in Asia which is so culturally diverse?”

“Aren’t we have enough of the ‘western’ medicine that so often promised to cure all but actually created many ills amongst us?”

“Is there a circle way that is principly-centered to our own value system?”.

I did not get answers to all above…

But I know where to find the answers…within the hearts of those that will heed the call of circle.

Christina Baldwin

Christina Baldwin

It seems a long time I have known Christina and Ann. Having read their books, visited their website, heard their stories and followed their work, I was taking in their friendships in the way I am fond of – quite, demure and unassuming, I supposed. In the five days we spent time together, the close encountered has given me a glimpse to their passion, wisdom and above all humanity. We shared intimate conversations, spoke with our eyes and hearts, felt the energetics of love, walked the Australian bush and went for Kangaroo sightings at a nearby golf park with charming child-likeness – Thank you.

Ann Linnea

Ann Linnea

Here’s our little conversation we had periodically throughout the five days:

“I am unsure when to sound the bell as a guardian…would I undermined the intention of the circle host if I did so?”. I asked.

“Allen, I want to thank you for your wisdom in asking the question.”. Ann assured.

“I am burdened with responsibility to carry the work of circle…”. I shared in the story council.

“We want you to know that we are a team now. You are now a steward of the PeerSpirit Circle and we will support in the work that you do in Asia…and beyond”. Christina whispered with conviction.

See you both in Asia in 2012!

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.

If you are not good enough – Volunteer!

Aug 28, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Leadership Infusion | Stories Retold

Picture source: ConversationCircles

Picture source: ConversationCircles

Voluntary – of Latin origins voluntarius “of one’s free will”, of voluntas “will”. Originally of feelings, later also includes action. I became interested in the meaning of voluntarism and seeing many volunteers coming from all walks of life committing their time and energy to the recently concluded Youth Olympic Games (YOG).

A conversation sometime last year with a group of friends on volunteering for YOG…

“I have submitted my name as a volunteer for the inaugural YOG next year.” I shared excitingly.

“Oh..good for you. Our organization has also been invited to propose some of our members as volunteers…but it is very difficult for us because the actual event are still so far ahead, we don’t know what and how they want us to volunteer…” a friend lamented.

“What do you meant by don’t know what and how?” I asked.

“The organizing body wanted a list of volunteers but did not tell us what are we volunteering for, how long must the volunteers commit their time…and not even the duration of period we are suppose to commit!” he explained matter-of-factly.

Hearing this I asked: “Wouldn’t voluntary mean giving willingly without precedented knowing?”

I would not elaborate on the rest of the conversation but it did set me thinking deeper into the meaning of voluntarism…

I still vaguely remember when I first volunteered; I was eager to join my classmates in a favorite school-recess game call ‘One-Legged-Chase’ which they have already started before I arrived. I “willingly volunteered” as I wanted to be in the game, I was told to be the ‘One-Legged-Chaser’ (usually the disadvantage role in that game) for me to be in the game; that’s my first sensed that volunteering entails some form of ‘sacrifice’…I was about 9 years old.

Since then, I would suppose that I have ‘volunteered’ countless time in school, home, at church and workplace; for friends, family, organizations and for the nation. But I have not learn about the meaning of volunteering until now. I am begining to understand that the true meaning of voluntarism. Briefly, they are:

  • Giving my time, resource and expertise to causes that benefit the receiving.
  • Doing something that not necessarily I am good at but I might be weak on.
  • Serving the needs and wants of others that may not necessarily satisfy my needs and wants.
  • Attending to the needs of others without attaining the need of self.
  • Ultimately, a calling to serve with a belief of one’s own FAITH.

It took me some time of reflection and realization to come to the above learning. The biggest hurdle for me is about “PERFORMANCE“. I was humbled to learn that volunteering is less of what I can give but what I am willing to give even I am not good at giving. The humbling help me to learn that by willingly giving what I am weak at is a way to learn how selfish I can be in those things that I perceived I am strong, good or of abundance. If I am only giving what I am good, strong or of abundance of, then I am most of the time choose how and when I can give, why I should give and even who should I give to…then I think that is not of WILL but WANT.

The six days and approximately 36 hours of volunteering at Youth Olympic Village enable me:

- to be vulnerable (not knowing what to expect from youth around the world),

- to be youthful again (promoting games and events for youth),

- to be managed by people half my age (leaders are mostly young adults),

- to be humbled by the experiences (the job could be mundane but necessary, total distance traveled about 480km in public transport).

Points to Ponder:

  • In which area of your life that you are good, strong and in abundance of? Start giving…
  • In which area of your life that you are not so good, weak and less of? Try giving…

How do you know that you don’t know?

May 14, 2010 // No Comments » // Change Initiation | HR Insights | Stories Retold

Picture source: Terra Kate via Flickr

Picture source: Terra Kate via Flickr

Our boy Timothy is 10 years old. We have been trying to impress upon him the benefits of oral hygiene since he has his first tooth…and these are what we have done in the past:

• Bought him the most attractive toothbrush and most enticing toothpaste when he started brushing. (HR C&B?)
• Bought him books and DVD animated series about dental hygiene. (Training & Education?)
• Showed him many times how to brush by holding his hands, forcing our way into his mouth etc. (Coaching & Mentoring?)
• Model to him every morning and night…(Leadership?)

But he still succumbed to tooth decayed, gum diseases etc…until Jan this year…

We booked an appointment with Health Promotion Board (HPB). A division that provides dental-care for the Ministry of Education school-going children. When it was Tim’s turn for the check, he walked in bravely but commented it was creepy and cold…a Dr. Ng Jing Jing attended to him and after checking realized that he has a decayed milk tooth that will need to be extracted. But due to his previous VSD condition, they will need a confirmation from the cardiologist from KK before the procedure. Dr.Ng explained patiently to us and proceed to do the routine “re-educational” with Tim, that was when it impressed upon me most…

What Dr. Ng did was a great learning for me not just about teaching Tim oral hygiene, but her approaches; she started with having Tim holding a small mirror to his mouth so that Tim are able to “SEE” what’s he’s doing when she explains…the whole process! I was dumb-founded for a moment and realised the importance “Learning and Knowing”. I realised that Tim would probably never know what’s going on ‘in his mouth’ when we taught him how to brush his teeth in the past…at least not visually knowing…but when he saw what happened, he look more convinced and confident about oral hygiene. I was totally impressed. Tim even commented after that: “I have never felt my teeth so clean in my life”.

That episode brings my reflection to a client of mine that grappled with ‘Change’ in their organization. As I shared with them about the reality of what’s happening with their processes after a ‘Change Urgency’ audit, they weren’t sure the data would be too “hard a reality” for some of the people. I explained that for change to happen, people need to “See”,“Know” and “Understand” the reality of what’s going on before they will have the motivation to change. My job then is to be as real as a mirror to reflect that back to them…

A mirror to tell the truth…but the challenge remains whether people are prepare to see what’s the reality…they still have a choice to NOT see what they are capable of seeing….hence knowing and learning…thus changing.

Are your people ready to face up to the reality? Are you ready to be the mirror to help them “SEE” the reality?