The Question of Trust



                                                                                                                       The Question of Trust
                                                                                                                             By Adam Chan

Human instinctively seeks happiness and peace as the ultimately state of mind. An artist must paint and a musician must play, one must do what he aspired to do best in order to develop. It may seem achievable through persistence but we know it well enough, any individual achieving such form of personal mastery is usually supported by those who are connected to the individual. Connection is the bridge for relationships and it acts like adhesive that binds and fuses this connection which is commonly known to us as Trust. This value is of bedrock status, like a cornerstone of a building, it binds people together in all contexts, trust cuts through cultural barriers as well as through space and time. It is not bonded to materials and conditions of the secular world but it demands for commitment like oxygen to humans, at the same time it has no limit to how much we can give. Less we can discern it; trust will evaporate like vapor without a trace and effects. Does the picture of the cute dog communicates trust to you?

Trust is tacit, often we don’t explicitly express it towards other people verbally rather in a combination of gestures and words, timing and environment. That makes it harder to discern but certainly it can be felt. We yearn for it when we don’t feel its presence but when it is abundance we often don’t hold on to it.

Trust in Various Aspects

Trust transcend through culture, races, geography, space and time. Probably, there are various aspects of trust that we are aware of its presence and influence. They are too worthy for us think about especially the relationship of each aspect to another. This tacit relationship is hardly easy to comprehend, sometimes even paradoxical. Over-analyzing may result in overwhelming amount intertwined factors that are beyond our channel capacity. If we are unable to synthesize the bits and pieces of data we have systematically torn apart, it has little or no value to strip it to pieces to start with. We ought to discern trust rather to comprehend it. To know trust, let’s try to us our hearts to feel instead of restricting to our heads.

Trust Oneself (Self-efficacy)

Do we need to trust ourselves? Often we think this is about garnering self-confidence but it is hardly the case. To develop the ability to mobilize oneself to perform an insurmountable feat requires self-efficacy. It is defined as people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Most people would describe it as trusting oneself. Life challenges are inevitable and some will strike fear in our hearts or send chill to our bones. If overwhelmed, one may be paralyzed to an extent in losing the ability to make decisions at critical moments. Essentially we are making decisions daily to move ahead with our lives for time moves ahead regardless our following. Hence the ability to make decision nothing less than critical in our lives.

When faced with a daunting challenge, we respond in two common ways. Fight or flight. What may influence what we choose has much to do with the level of self-efficacy each person perceives, a.k.a. trusting oneself. The higher the self-efficacy, likely one can manage any daunting challenges with composure. Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist who practices behavioral science suggested four main sources of self-efficacy. They are;

  • Mastery Experience– any well developed relevant experience will assist the person in having a higher self-efficacy in taking on challenges.
  • Vicarious Experiences– modeling from others, e.g. learning to play an instrument by viewing an expert in action.
  • Social Persuasion(verbal persuasion) – positive encourage or persuasion from people who show care and concern for the person.
  • Physiological State– the current state of mind prior to taking on the challenge.

More readings on the 4 sources can be found at:

Trust others(Skills, Knowledge & Attitude)                       

We often wonder if chickens existed before chicken eggs or vice versa. Nobody could draw a conclusion to this. Perhaps there are things we will never understand totally in the logically sense but we have fully accepted their existence and relevance. For the question of trust, we know very well both its goodness and vulnerability. We then raise question regarding trust and hope to feel for an answer; should I give trust or wait for it to come? This question has uncanny paralleled notions to that of the “Chickens and Eggs” paradox.

When trust is given and reciprocated with no questions asked, the giver can feel powerless yet not stripped or vulnerable, instead the sense of goodness and peace can be felt rising from inside. We can probably recall one or few significant moments when we have unconditionally give our trust. From the physiologically sense, the sensation of this gesture would be best described as a gently progressive swelling of the heart, dilated pupils, sweaty palms and a sudden increase in breathing. You might find this description familiar, especially to married couples, that memorable moment when both exchange vows saying “I do”. Essentially both parties has given each other their commitment unconditionally, two have become one.

The rapid pace in any corporate settings seems to have transformed trust to other forms beyond our recognition thus we find it hard to discern its presence from layers of masks and distractions. In certain ways, trust has been woven into work processes like meetings, delegation of tasks, handling projects, managing peers, etc. Being competent does help to gain a certain degree of trust from others. E.g. delegating tasks in accordance to the level of competency a.k.a. skill and knowledge; trusting the executors’ ability to carry out the tasks with excellence. A caveat to this; such trust is build upon a changeable foundation, i.e. competency. What if technology has overtaken competency or the initial competency has been relegated to outdated rudimentary skills? Will such trust remain? Would the opportunities be delegated again?

Human creations are countable and measurable, these creations brought about convenience and better lifestyle. Ironically, the have not being found enduring. Even the resolute earth’s gravity is not permanent; the notion of light traveling in straight line can be changed too. Beyond earth, gravity ceases to function as a constant. The many sightings from astronomers reported that light can be bent if the gravitation force is strong enough. The theory of relativity suggested a universal connectedness between all items, regardless living or not. Therefore constant is a perception and once relationships are disconnected, being constant has lost its relevance as like gravity on earth remains constant but not beyond it.

Have humans not tried arduously to quantify, gauge, classed, etc. what we have on this planet? A learner driver needs to obtain minimum number ticks on the check boxes during the driving test to obtain a legitimate license. Would the number of ticks mean anything when an accident occurs on the road? Would the driver be acquitted of the responsibility of the accident because of the ticks on the check boxes? How about giving trust to the driver thus concluding that we will trust the driver for repentance and not demanding for tangible accountability? The society is unlikely to accept such judgment. Therefore trust diminishes when conditions flourish.

Skill and knowledge can be measured and re-measured. Are they real and lasting? Perhaps this is a lengthy way to explain why trust will not be enduring when it is build upon these measurable properties or elements.

Can positive attitude help to build trust among people? Certainly it will. We naturally get along with people we find similar or possessing positive attitude towards life in general. With positive attitude, it augments the inter-personal relationships among people thus trust is naturally built. Once again with the absence of positive attitude, trust can be lost, isn’t it?

Perhaps the anecdotes and perspectives mentioned in the previous sections all point to an unthinkable notion; trust is not to be built on any foundation, trust by itself is the foundation, the corner stone, the fundamental, ground zero, the seed etc. it allows us to get connected to our deepest core-self as well as others and the world we are in. Something that is so secured and founding needs no foundation. When we give trust it should come with no conditions; no expectations for it to be reciprocated, for if it is pure it will be reciprocated naturally.
When we build trust upon skill, knowledge and attitude, we are building trust on various sets of comprehensible conditions. If the conditions are met, trust will be granted. Essentially trust is being traded like commodities or shares under such settings. Any trade agreements come with conditions; it is implicit that conditional trust doesn’t last because conditions are not enduring. In a nutshell, conditional trust is trading.

Trust the System & Equipment

We are surrounded by numerous systems created by humans. Inadvertently, we utilize the available systems to enable us to achieve our daily goals, both major and minor ones. In any subset of any established systems, processes are often found in them, guiding, channeling or funneling both material and manpower resources to achieve certain desire outcomes. (goals, revenue targets, etc.)

Technologies have become an integral part of our lives. The “black boxes” have dominated our living rooms, taken top spot as the accessory of choice, our reliance on it only increases and most have little or no idea what goes on in the “black boxes”. Can we trust this box? Perhaps life moves regardless and we all gradually got accustom to these “black boxes” as part of our lives. It wouldn’t work for anyone if we carry doubts all the time, isn’t it? We enjoyed the convenience they brought for us thus we learned helplessly to rely on these boxes to rule our lifestyles. Certainly they have given us a new kind of inconvenience but over time, we gradually learn to accept the imperfections of these “black boxes” as their standing increases in our lives. Perhaps we have subconsciously developed a relationship with these boxes and learned to trust them even most of people have no directly influence over the functionality of the boxes.

Adrenalin junkies go to great length to seek for thrilling activities to fulfill the rush. Sports climbers relied totally on a fall protection system to govern their lives when they immense themselves in this potentially hazardous activity. The same fall protection system is being utilized in cleaning operations of skyscrapers. Users have learned to rely on the fall protection system as they gain proficiency in using the system they have conceived originally. The trust relationship in this aspect is different from the “block boxes” one. Users have acquired proficiency through training before they use the system. Users are directly responsible for the outcome. We can generalize that with higher proficient, greater the trust on the system.
Humans develop procedures in tandem with the needed equipment to make up a system. Users of the system receive training from the developers to build their trust in the procedures and equipment thus the system.

Trust the Environment (Nature or Social Norms)

We exist in the presence of the environment. It can be totally natural or man-made.

Trusting the social norms, we make important decisions base on the influences from the norms. In the work settings, social norms can be viewed as the organization culture and we commonly define organization culture as “the way things are around here”. More than often, “the ways” are not explicit, new comers learn “the ways” along with the other functional competencies. If culture is tacit, how would one be assured to join any given organization especially not knowing if the theory-in-use culture corresponds to the espoused culture?

People living in extreme climate habitat have little options to doubt when it comes to food source availability. Eskimos navigate miles on treacherous ice sheet, exposed directly to the onslaught of the extreme weather conditions to locate the very scarce food source around the polar region. Margin for error is extremely slim in such environment. Possessing knowledge of the weather, equipment and wild life is imperatives to staying alive. When facing a life and death situation, an experienced Eskimo can synthesize the knowledge and information, making decision that will mitigate any adverse situations; this is commonly known as experience based judgment.

In Amazon jungle, in the effort to stay alive in the jungle, the survivor gradually learns to trust the vines to take his/her weight whilst climbing from high to low grounds. As the survivor gained knowledge of the environment, bolder judgments can be made, like consuming unusual living things in the jungle. Making bolder judgment may very well come from the familiarity to the environment which correlates to increasing in trust. Don’t we trust someone who we know and get along very well?

In general, any society is governed by policies and laws which form the environment. People who live in the environment bounded by these policies and laws gradually learn to trust these rules or some may be conditioned to “the way things are”. It is clear now that we apply discernment in terms of building and granting trust to people, systems or environment. The way trust is fostered doesn’t go with the “one size fits all” notion.

Trust Faith (Supernatural)

An expression of trust; commonly used in the context of religion and beliefs. Nobody has seen GOD in person and yet people can exhibit such strong and firm belief of His presence and existence. Such belief is also known as “Faith” and believers have learned to sense and discern GOD’s presence. Believers know and firmly acknowledge their relationships with GOD even there are no scientific evidence to prove GOD’s existence. Most importantly, believers don’t require such prove of existence, they simple know GOD is with them, all the time.
We have diverse views on this relationship which give rise to the various denominations in this world. Regardless of what denominations, this form of trust between GOD and man requires no conditions except faith. It would be fair to consider faith as the highest form of trust that men can surrender.

The Logic in Trust?

The ease and difficulty in giving trust lies in the ingrained assumptions held by every individual. Assumptions can either augment or limit the ability of giving trust. We often question what if the given trust is not reciprocated? At worse, it is displaced.

Picture this; at the subway during the morning rush hour, standing at a carriage door was a crowd of commuters waiting for the arriving train. A pair of yellow lines painted on the floor extending outwards from the carriage door denotes the restricted zone to be left vacant for alighting commuters. The crowd automatically forms along both yellow lines but not in the restricted zone; cautiously each commuter strategically positioned themselves to obtain superiority over his or her neighbors, anticipating for the train to arrive in minutes.

The sound of the train wheels rolling on the rails increases in volume, the headlight illuminates the leading rails, the mellow screeching braking tone radiating from wheels, the all too familiar commuter broadcast echo through the entire subway offering kind and gentle reminders to all. Suddenly, at the every last moment just before the train halted, a foot straddles into the restricted zone to gain a strategic positioning advantage over another commuter, this action did not go unnoticed and like the opening of a flood gate, the commuters started shoving and jostling their way through the tiny opening that is designed for just two to three persons and yet the football teams of commuters came converging at the opening, placing no regards on its capacity. The results were a bunch of anger charged, disgusted and disappointed commuters has boarded the train slower than what would have been faster if they simply queue to get in instead.

Why did that happen? Did they not know that queuing is a faster?

The general assumption might be queuing is meant for stupid people and smart people always get there first. Queuing seems too civilize to be adopted in a subway environment. Boarding first matters most in rush hour. If others don’t bother to queue up, why should I? Queuing up is not a culture here. When in Rome, do what the Roman does.

This is linear mindset. In another words, each person is solely responsible for his or her own decisions and actions that are isolated from all others. From a systemic point of view, we can certainly identify the negative reinforcing effects of the mentioned assumptions have on trust (see diagram below). Harboring those thoughts not only limits any possible growth in trust, it breeds distrust among people. Eventually it will be manifested in the behavior among people as illustrated in the rush hour anecdote. Nobody mention the word distrust but their behaviors and actions towards one another speaks volume. Conversely when we perceive and appreciate the positive reinforcing effects of trusting others (even strangers) to queue and collectively all commuters will board the train in a shorter duration thus reducing the stopover time at each station. The eventuality is everyone will arrive to his or her destination faster. Wouldn’t that be desirable?

As Maslow stated, humans are always seeking for peace and happiness. The path of seeking is actually the behaviors and actions extraverted by people rooted to their ingrained assumptions and at the deepest core, our fundamental beliefs. We then question ourselves how can we obtain happiness and peace. Usually we will find it difficult to arrive to an answer. We can’t eliminate weeds by just cutting it; the roots have to be eradicated. By the same token, the wellness of plant growth is determined by the health of the roots. It is probably more accurate and specific to ask which beliefs give us happiness and peace and which would not rather learning an technique to acquire happiness and peace.

Trust and distrust operate by the same reinforcing principle except they are reinforced in opposite directions. Strange but true, the human seems to have inherited an innate mindset of defensiveness that originated from the past where humans are exposed widely to life threatening dangers from predatory animals. This basic survival instinct is not only visible in overt behaviors but it has a definite influence on our mindset. So much so the default setting of our mindset is usually in a cautious mode and it is pervasive until today. If we tend to err on the safe side, would we unconditionally grant our trust to others? Back to the rush hour anecdote, commuters don’t queue not because they don’t know the merits of that; it is plainly a trust issue. If distrusting behaviors are visible even at the most subtle level, it will move the masses into the default mindset easily. However, to manifest trusting behaviors is much tougher as compared to the former. Why is that so? The elaboration of the instinctive defensiveness of humans has probably suggested the reason for the differences.


Trust is not only essential; trust is imperatives to human if we are to remain effective in this society. Loosing the ability to trust is like disconnecting of oneself from others, society, environment and GOD.

As much as we attempt to explain trust from a logical stand point, the eventuality is realizing whatever or however profound the logical explanation may be we would arrive in contradictions. When this happens, logic in trust doesn’t make sense anymore. Even knowing it takes less time when commuters queue to board a bus will not guarantee or encourage the habit of queuing. Invariably, having trust will alter this no queuing behavior and yet this logic fails to drive people to do so. In the end, it is contradiction we feel.

Trust keeps us effective as a person in this society. Trust augments our personal effectiveness so that we can strive in the corporate world. Trust built up by familiarity keeps us alive when we are stranded in the wilderness. Religious faith keep us connected to a divine reference simultaneously freeing us from bondages.

Heart over head, trust over logic


Ladder of Inference



Ladder of Inference by The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organisation by Peter Senge.

This model is taken from The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organisation by Peter Senge. I guess its quite similar or rather an adaptation of the experiential learning cycle as well as success reinforcing engine model.

Most of the time we use the experiential learning cycle as an introduction to our programmes, but perhaps using this model for our educational and developmental programmes as a process of debrief or reflection for each activity or at the end of the programme, we can draw more  learning and stronger emotions of what participants go through.

The Model can also be presented and understood in the following cycles as well depending on how we want to draw certain outcomes from the debrief.

For more information and knowledge

Go check out

The Delicate Link



The link between two parties is probably the vital artery of the organization and yet it can be as delicate as a strand of hair

One of the unique traits of FOCUS Adventure is the love-hate relationship between facilitators and project managers. The link between the two parties is probably the vital artery of the organization and yet it can be as delicate as a strand of hair.

Invariably, the project managers are made up of female partners and facilitators are male partners. This trend has remained
consistent to FOCUS Adventure for many growing years. This trend will always be unique to FOCUS Adventure and to some external parties; it may be a point of contention. It seems like this arrangement potentially carries the seeds to future conflicts when FOCUS Adventure recruit more partners. However, conflicts are not necessary undesirable. We know that Bruce Tuckman’s team developmental model contains the Storming stage a.k.a. conflicts. This clearly suggests that conflicts are necessary for team development. Just because FOCUS Adventure preaches teambuilding as the core business does not mean conflicts are not present. We will be in self denial to think otherwise. Therefore, FOCUS Adventure views this unique arrangement as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

What keeps a team intact?

In any performing team, there will be agreements and arguments. As much as we need oxygen to stay alive, this stuff we breathe in also breakdown any elements in the world e.g. rusty irons, moldy bread, decomposition, combustion, etc. it deteriorates our life span gradually and yet we need it as the basic element ingredients to survival. Isn’t this ironic? We can think of As we became familiar with FOCUS
Adventure, we became comfortable. What
comes after the forming stage is storming.

In any organization, it is made up of work units and it is usually organized into generic functions, departments or unique project groups. The nature of such grouping fosters team identity. Inadvertently it also creates underlying assumptions towards each other. These assumptions can be general or specific. The assumptions gave rise to tension among the work units. Tension can mean conflicts among the work units. The healthy tension moves resources to achieve goals whereas the toxic ones will diminish productivity.

What keeps a team intact is therefore not only how frequent they agree but also how competent they handle arguments.


Do project managers hesitate when tagging certain facilitators? At the extreme, some may totally avoid tagging the not preferred facilitator. At the basic level, this is what Faci-Phobia is. It may be good news to the particular facilitator but it is detrimental to the organization.

Commonly, we know that facilitator tagging practice is based on competency. Project managers will usually try to match the clients’ needs to the competency of the facilitator. Just like the Johari Windows, this information is in the open quadrant (to read about Johari Windows, scroll down to the Annex A).

In general, Phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by extreme and irrational fear of simple things or social situations

We may wonder is competency the only condition being considered. Could there be other hidden conditions? In Johari Windows, third quadrant points to the “hidden” space within everyone. It is unlikely that facilitator tagging is based on competency alone. So what is it that makes the project managers hesitate when tagging certain facilitators?

After all, project managers’ performance are measured is by numbers. Huge numbers may not necessary reflect quality but small numbers are by no means desirable too.

What gave them Faci-Phobia?

The obvious reason for hesitating in tagging a particular facilitator is fear. Fear by itself doesn’t make a lot of sense. Let’s build some context around fear; project managers are directly answerable for shoddy programs even if the damage is created by the facilitators. Even we understand the success or failure of a program is a shared responsibility but the project managers face the heat directly whereas the facilitators are buffered from such situations. A shoddy program can mean difficulty in receiving payments from the clients. Reading nasty
complaining emails and being put in the inevitable situation to make responses induces the most potent headache. Setting up a service recovery meeting reluctantly plus gripped by worries the never the welcoming part for anyone. Last but not least, shoddy programs are likely to terminate any future dealings with the affected clients. The above illustrations should adequately elaborate the context of fear herein. Hence, when a project manager hesitated to tag, it is likely due to the mentioned fear. Over time, repeated exposure to the same fear will lead to the infamous Faci-Phobia.

So far, the situations described are due to the direct contacts between clients and facilitators. They are largely connected to the competency of the facilitators. Another important contact point is between the facilitators and project managers. This takes place frequently and it is easy to take it for granted. Occasionally, this contact operates base on some underlying assumptions which often lead to points of contention. Commonly, these are critical pre-program information regarding a particular program. E.g. check-in time, program venue, clients’ special needs, objective emphasis, time coordination, etc. In the event of disputes, facilitators and project managers take reference from a tangible asset; the O.P.T.I.O.N.S form. Does every facilitator read the useful information painstakingly captured by the project managers? This is surely an area where things are being taken granted for. Not making sufficient effort to be informed give opportunities to assumptions to take over, so much so when the assumptions were treated as facts from time to time. Consequently, unwarranted tension sets in and the blaming game begins. This will reinforce development of the Faci-Phobia.

Post programs woes are not uncommon too. There are some routine tasks to perform as part of post program follow up to close the loop. Sometimes clients may make additional requests to be met. Usually when things are not followed up, the project managers will receive “gentle reminders” from the clients. This is where opportunities to augment or diminish facilitators-project managers’ relationships were created. Making the right decision builds whereas taking the easy way destroys. Any facilitator who committed to any task to any project manager but failed in delivering will strain the relationship. This may sound like a motherhood statement but the reality is most people only recognized it as the cause for the strained relationship. In fact the act of not delivering the commitment does little harm to the relationship. What really erases the credibility of any facilitator regardless his experiences and competency is the failure to acknowledge the oversight. The harsh reality is the possibility for the involved facilitator to shift the oversight buck to others. This will make the strain irreversibly; etched deeply in any project manager. Consequently, the Faci-Phobia gets confirmed.


In summary, there are only two states to any interpersonal relationship, i.e. good or bad. Clearly the feeling of good and bad can be felt by the involved parties easily even people don’t verbalize them. What make it bad then? What are some unwanted behaviors that will drive the project managers to the wall? Since the frequent contacts between facilitators and project managers create tensions, it would be worthwhile to identify the trivial yet highly repetitive contacts that offer opportunities for such behaviors to breed. What can the project managers do about it? They can decide to address the unwanted behaviors or avoid the predicament all together.

When we need to make decisions, we can choose the right way or the easy way. Commitment will drive us to the right way but compliance will likely lead to the easy way. Confidence gives right whereas fear makes wrong. At the fundamental level, the facilitator tagging practice is about making decision. Once decided, the outcome will be shifted into the open quadrant of the Johari Windows. However, what goes into the decision is only known to the decision makers and sometimes the decision makers can even be oblivious because our sub conscious mind can profoundly influence the eventual outcome.

Regardless of pre-program preparation, program delivery or post program activities, all these work processes are fundamentally contact points between the facilitators and project managers, this delicate link is valuable as well as vulnerable. With a blink, the credibility of any facilitator can be easily lost. In reality, project managers don’t usually verbalize their preferences when tagging facilitators because it may be too complicated to elaborate to any facilitator without causing misunderstanding. Moreover, with the pace of things in FOCUS Adventure it is never conducive for such conversations to take place during the peak hours. At the end of the day, project managers will instinctively prefer to tag facilitators whom they deem reliable.

What goes into reliability? It is as simple as doing what was promised. Small well-meaning and consistent gestures go a long way in building reliability into the relationship. Exercising sensitivity to each other feelings during the contacts requires no monumental effort. Exhibiting respectful behaviors towards each other is as common as common sense to everyone. Although these are small behavioral efforts but it will give great mileage to the facilitators’ reliability. Most project managers may not demand top notched quality for every
program from the facilitators but they sure don’t expect to be left hanging to dry, all alone. By simply keeping to what was committed, the facilitators will certainly make good deposits into the emotional bank accounts of the project managers. In a nutshell, don’t “fly-aeroplane” the project managers.

Will facilitators develop PM-Phobia too? It is suffice to say that reliability is what facilitators look for in the project managers as well. Assuredly, facilitators will suffer from such phobia too.

Annex A

Johari Window

Johari Windows is a communication model that can be used to improve understanding between individuals within a team or in a group setting. Based on disclosure, selfdisclosure and feedback, the Johari Window can also be used to improve a group’s relationship with other groups.

Developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham (the word “Johari” comes from Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham), there are two key ideas behind the tool:

  1. That individuals can build trust between themselves by disclosing information about themselves; and
    2. That they can learn about themselves and come to terms with personal issues with the help of feedback from others.

By explaining the idea of the Johari Window to your team, you can help team members understand the value of self-disclosure, and gently encourage people to give and accept feedback. Done sensitively, this can help people build more-trusting relationships with one another, solve issues and work more effectively as a team.

Concept of Johari Windows

The Johari Window model consists of a foursquare grid. This is shown in the diagram below,

Using the Johari
model, each person is represented by their own four-quadrant, or four-pane,
window. Each of these contains and represents personal information – feelings,
motivation, etc. – about the person, and shows whether the information is known
or not known by themselves or other people.

The 1st quadrant – The
open/free area is where information to known to everyone. It is useful to share
information especially from the learning and developmental point of view.

The 2nd quadrant – The
blind area is like any driver’s blind spot. The subject will not know about it
until there is feedback bringing this blinded information into the open area.

The 3rd quadrant – The
hidden area is only known to the subject but not others. Commonly when people
rise to occasions, making remarkable achievements by exhibiting latent talents
only known to the subject himself.

The 4th quadrant – The
unknown area is any information that is still undiscovered. It can be viewed as

Case Study: Change Management



In June 07, the Information Technology (IT) department of the Singapore Exchange decided to send an invitation to all IT staff; an invitation to stay or go. In the past, they were adopting a “built” model in growing their capability. Moving forward, they have decided to change tack to an “outsourced” model. The change is expected to invoke considerable amount of mental dissonances to the existing IT staff, especially the longer serving ones. To the new joins, the impact is probably light. Communicating such change is never easy and welcoming especially to the receivers. Through multiple prong approaches, the IT head has communicated the hard but necessary message to all 56 staff members and Focus Adventure is honored to have played an integral role in the process.

The program is carefully tailored to convey this hard but necessary message to the IT staff. The program kicked off with a message emphasizing on model switching. Keeping the momentum, they were divided small groups to embark on the challenges ahead of them.

The key thrust of the program is the belief of change is possible. Commencing, the activity helium hula requires the participants to lower the hula hoop given to them from chest height to an inch above the ground and raise to the same starting height. The hula hoop is supported by their index fingers and the supporting fingers are prohibited from losing contact with the hoop. Failing which will lead to restarting. In small groups and each handling one hula hoop, they are asked to set their time targets in completing the task. Setting the mood, the activity helium hula spreads the critical insights of the need to think beyond boundaries and challenge the frozen assumptions. With limiting paradigms, not only personal growth is limited, it may very well be the critical barriers to organization development. These insights will surely augment the notion of change is possible.

Following the Helium Hula, they embarked on the Wheel Watch activity as the catalyst to shifting paradigms. The Wheel Watch is a giant see-saw platform that requires all participants to balance the platform whilst remaining on board. Time target is required to determine the process quality. Initially, their collective conscious will lead them to believe that a balanced platform connotes stability and it means remaining stationary on board i.e. “Don’t Move”. In addition, appointing one or a few persons to be mobile while the rest remains stationary usually become the common assumption to success, however this will create a near impossible situation to overcome. Little they know that by one or a few persons making the effort to compensate will not achieve any significant progress differences. After laboring hard for sometime and with timely intervention from the facilitators, they began to accept the need for shifting their paradigm. Instead of relying on a few persons, they decided to engage everyone in making the needed compensation i.e. “All Move”. To their astonishment, with synchronized, minute and collective leaning movements they achieved the balanced state without all the hard labor utilized earlier. They also realized the importance of sensing the ever-changing environment. The paradigm shift from “Don’t move” notion to that of an “All Move” notion is clearly swinging between two opposing polarities. The crucial tie-back from this paradigm is “Don’t Move” represents the “Built” model whereas “All Move” is the “Outsourced” model.

Climbing the Team Challenge Pyramid (TCP) became the peak experience to sum up the program. The TCP works on a static belay system. In groups of 5 to 6 members, they were connected as they scale towards to pyramid top which is standing at 25m, fitted with 14 challenge elements to overcome. Learning to trust oneself, the team and the safety system is imperative to achieving success. Through investing trust on other members, many have stepped out of their regular context and gained tremendously from it. At the top of the pyramid, each successful climb was greeted with by a sweet zip wire descend back on the ground.


Success Engine (Reinforcing)



There are numerous models and theories that emphasize on the recipe to success. Which one will work? Is it a question of skill, knowledge or attitude? The most common reply is probably a blend of the three. Does that sound like a safe response or is that just a motherhood statement? In theory, if all the contributing factors are observed and practiced, success would be eminent, wouldn’t it? It sounds easy, yet can this be achieved? What is oblivious to most is the fact that we are limited by a cognitive bottleneck. Simply phrased; we are not capable of observing and practicing all these contributing factors at once. So with such a limitation, would success still be eminent?

Perhaps it would make better sense to focus on the key factors that possess stronger links and have the ability to cross augment other factors. When these key factors are achieved, every thing else will fall into place. Now, is that too good to be true? Do you subscribe to the notion of  “Less Is More”? The conventionally cautious mentality of most people will not. Let’s examine the “Success Engine (reinforcing)” model to help us understand the concept of “less is more”

The Model   

The model centers on the word quality and mutual reinforcements. The diagram below shows the four factors that make up the model. The block arrows form a loop in which the factors are related to each other. Every factor is interdependent and they reinforce each other in an infinite loop.

In brief, with quality relationships among team members, it will augment our quality of thinking. When our thinking is of quality, it will lead to quality actions during execution. Without a doubt, quality results will be inevitable. The loop competes when quality results are achieved, the interpersonal relationship gets enhanced.

More than often, we will wish to focus on the four factors to achieve perfection. Yet we forget that perfection is an unattainable illusion. Earlier, the cognitive bottleneck was mentioned; it is the inherent limitation of the human mind. For instance, why are there only 8 digits in our telephone numbers? Technology is not the limiting factor here but research has shown that our memory is only capable of recalling number sets containing 7 – 9 random numbers. With such a limitation, we will not be able to focus on all four factors simultaneously and wouldn’t doing so severely stress our mental capabilities? Some may argue that there are only four factors and it is not too heavy for us to look into all at once. Yet in reality, we have to remember that each factor consists of many sub-factors. Taking just one factor completely into consideration is already quite a feat. So if we can’t focus on all four factors, which one would we place emphasis on?

If we were to rank these factors in the order of importance, guess which one will come out on top? Most commonly: the quality of relationship will.

So how would focusing on relationships bring about cross augmentation to the other three factors?

Abraham Maslow developed a theory for human motivation. In his five-stage Hierarchy of Needs, he illustrates the enduring desire of humans to seek out basic needs like food, shelter, air, etc. progressively all the way to higher order needs like self-esteem, creativity, self-actualization, etc. At the highest stage, the person is self-actualized and is able to perform at his peak.

In his model, after satisfying our basic needs, we seek out affection, love and relationships. Achieving this stage would then propel our whole being into a higher plane of thinking and performing.  Without satisfying this stage of relationships, we face difficulty ascending to the higher stages and stagnation leads to unhappiness and a sense of loss.

The phrase “No man is an island” depicts how we innately seek to build connections with people both intentionally and unintentionally. In order for a family, an organization, a sport team, an expedition team, etc. to succeed in achieving their common goals, fostering quality relationships is crucial. Weak or hostile relationships breed negative energy quietly among team members. These intangible obstacles will then block or inhibit the communication flow in the team. With such frequent destructive communication, the connections between team members soon turn into gaps and the team eventually becomes divided. The progression towards their common goals will be shackled by this malicious negative energy. And at this point, there will no longer be progress to talk about, merely interventions and damage control measures.

Making reference to Bruce Tuckman’s team developmental model, the team shackled by such energy is known to be at the Storming stage. For any upward progression to take place, the team would have to build up their intra-team relationships and set the stage for a norming team to develop. We do this with the idea that Less achieves More, and in this case, focusing on the sole factor of “quality of relationships”. Most people will find it unusual because they will feel insecure to leave things to chances. However, believing in “Less is More” is not leaving things to chances but discovering more accurate and correct approaches. Placing weight on building quality relationships will lead to positive thinking which is an indication of quality thinking. A positive mind will translate to quality actions. Executing quality actions will assuredly achieve quality results. In turn, the quality results will reinforce the belief of building quality actions. The loop continues endlessly …

Supporting Web Links

The following are some web links for more reading:


Success Engine (reinforcing)


Maslow Hierarchy of Needs




Bruce Tuckman’s Team Developmental Stages



The Creative Clay Challenge



Looking for something novel, creative and constructive for your next teambuilding programme? Try the Creative Clay Challenge!

In this all-weather teambuilding activity, participants make colourful clay pieces which serve as metaphors to describe themselves, their organization and relationship with their colleagues .

What can the Creative Clay Challenge do for your organization?

– Clarify values, roles and identitie

– Integrate new teams and new members

– Integrate diverse cultures

– Stimulate creativity

– Facilitate SWOT analysis

– Improve project leadership

-Surface hidden issue

The Basis of the Creative Clay Challenge

The Creative Clay Challenge is based on the learning theory of Constructionism, which means that one learns through personal discovery of knowledge and its meaningfulness to themselves. Through the Creative Clay Challenge, participants will go through the process of self-discovery through expressing their thoughts, feelings and attitudes in creating clay products that they can identify with and are proud of. What you learn in the process of making things that you care about sinks much deeper into the subsoil of the brain.

The Results of the Creative Clay Challenge

Teams will learn how to:

– work with constraints

– manage change

– leverage on the strengths of the members and work around its weaknesses

– listen and communicate with one another

Teams bring back their masterpieces!

The Creative Clay Challenge enables your key stakeholders to breathe life into text and transform values into colourful clay pieces which they can bring back to their workplace! What better way to imbibe the organization’s values!

Try the Creative Clay Challenge to reap maximum effects from your teambuilding!

WorkLife Balance; Intergration?



Work and Life are likened to be water and oil that will never blend. For the longest time, the Singapore corporate citizens are yearning to achieve balance between Work and Life.

Taking stock, did they achieve the most wanted vision of WorkLife Balance? One may wonder…. It is likely we have mix feelings about it.

Gradually but surely, it is increasingly difficult to claim achievements to WorkLife Balances. The harder one tries, the less he achieves. What actually goes into the notion of WorkLife Balance is probably worth exploring as most people are feeling the point of diminishing return when this issue has been discussed.

WorkLife Balance may start off as the most embraced vision but it seems to fade into the background with things reverting to the past. Whatever the vision is, leadership plays a critical role in turning it to reality. To turn it into reality, this should be a vision that is so attractive for everyone to want to get there. The critical mass i.e. the staff plays an active role in living out the vision otherwise it remains as a vision statement. So what is WorkLife Balance to most people? Does building recreational facilities within company premises means WorkLife Balance?

After a mouthful on WorkLife Balance, what is WorkLife Integration from the same context? The next sections will discuss it in details.

What Singaporeans want?
Extracting from an article in Asiaone Business on worklife balance, this is the summary of a survey conducted by Robert Walters.

In fact, the thing they want most is a flexible work/life balance. A recent survey conducted by global recruitment firm Robert Walters found that 35 per cent of respondents said a flexible work/life balance is the main reason to consider a company ‘a great employer’.

Mark Ellwood, managing director of Robert Walters Singapore, said that the survey is further proof that employees increasingly regard quality of life as their chief objective. ‘People are prepared to work hard but the trade-off is two-fold,’ he said. ‘They want to enjoy the work they do but they don’t want to feel enslaved to their work. Employers need to be wise to this, because with competition for top talent at its most intense, they run the risk of losing out if they don’t meet this increasingly important requirement.

For further reading, go to:

It is crystal clear that Singaporeans are no longer enslaved to their job. Job seekers want to enjoy their work while being rewarded for the work done. We should probably give thanks to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for creating adequate jobs for job seekers to choose from. Having more options may have illuminated this emerging paradigm of work enjoyment over work slavery. Not forgetting other statutory boards like then EDB now sPRING, aSTAR, STB, etc. Surely, these statuary boards have both directly and indirectly stimulated the job creation capability of Singapore; as a result, job seekers are flooded with choices.

Paradigms towards WorkLife Balance
The notion of work enjoyment seems to send a mix signal to the employers. In what way workers can enjoy their work? A notion that supports what the workers want from their jobs could very well be WorkLife Balance, loosely defines as striking a balance between Work and Life.

Exactly what do we think WorkLife Balance is? What ever we think it is, we behave and act in ways that are consistent with the thought (paradigm) we hold. In Singapore, what is the most common WorkLife paradigm? Below is an extract from Zdnetasia, the article articulates the underlying paradigms hold dearly by some job seekers which reflects what Singaporeans have in their minds of WorkLife Balance. Below is a question from a job seeker contemplating of switching job.

Question: I have been a logistics manager for the last nine years, and have a Management degree. As logistics has limited vertical scope, I am planning to switch to either business development or consulting.

My first option is to pursue ERP, but the concerns are:

  1. It will make me restart my career,
  2. I will be “a visiting husband and father”–my understanding is that during initial phase as an ERP consultant, I will have to travel both with my family and alone. If one has a child who is schooling, then it’s difficult to move family as per a project.

3.I am not an engineer.

My second option is to pursue an executive MBA course. This would give me the edge of starting better as far as placements would take me, at better positions and my current experience. But it’s costly. Still, if I take a look at the investment returns, it is very good.  I am confused because ERP is growing and everyone is talking about it? Can you help me to choose the best in terms of current and future monetary and non-monetary perspective?

Career advice from the country manager of JobStreet Singapore:
You will need to examine your mindset, work-life balance, skills and prospects when you are considering a career change. Let’s examine each of the above in relation to your question:

Mindset: You have concluded that logistics has limited vertical scope. In reality, as we progress along our career path, the pinnacle gets sharper and opportunities at the top become less abundant. You will face the same challenge in any other career that you plan to pursue.  The way that many people overcome this is to ensure to be the best in the field. Our experience shows that the best always prevails–they never fall out of the game.

Work-life balance: This is seriously considered as part of today’s career pursuit. In other words, people will not blindly choose a career and neglect their family life. I see that coming across in your question–that is a healthy move. Like all new career moves, we need to spend an extensive amount of time to familiarize ourselves with the new environment and getting into the details of the job. That will expense a huge amount of time/energy and to some point neglecting of your family. Please ensure your family fully supports this new venture.

For further reading, go to:,3800009355,62044137,00.htm

To begin with, the questioner viewed switching job as both an attractive vision, nevertheless as a road block too. This forms a paradox. It is no surprise why he has chosen to seek for external advice. The consultant has illuminated the need to challenge his mindset and his notion of what WorkLife Balance is because paradox provides no solution, only confusion.

From the above article, it suggests that Singaporeans wanted a clear distinction between work and life, which is emphasized by the word balance. When we think of the word balance, we think of equilibrium and equality in distribution.

This paradigm of the word balance has a profound influence on how we view the phrase WorkLife Balance all together. We can easily assume that harmony between work and life to come from careful distribution of time. Is it truly possible to achieve harmony when the work needs are driven by external stimuli that we have absolutely no control over? Could the underlying core assumption of WorkLife Balance for most Singaporeans is,

“no working after 1800hrs and weekends?”

It appears like distribution of time.

Paradoxical Paradigms
In the earlier article, it states;

…. they want most is a flexible work/life balance

The word flexible connotes; capable of being changed, adjust readily to different conditions, making or willing to make concessions.

The willingness to make concessions directly contradicts the notion of no working after 1800hrs and weekends. Professional who are passionate and feel the sense of responsibilities towards their careers will find it difficult to reconcile these two polarized paradigms. It is common for exemplary professionals to make progress in their personal growth relating to their career outside of official working hours. Such professionals hardly demand for compensation from the company. They simply want to do it, not has do it. When passion is the fuel, time distribution will never become inhibition.

Moreover, passion is not time dependent, it drives when it suppose to drive. If WorkLife Balance is contingent upon time distribution, wouldn’t the interaction of passion and the notion of WorkLife Balance create greater polarization?

On the macro level, it may not be whether the society has arrived to WorkLife Balance, rather it is when our paradigms can be shifted about it. Otherwise, pursuing for WorkLife Balance would end up like chasing the end of the rainbow.

Passion, Work and Life
Work and Life; both elements are equally demanding on the time we have. In order to create harmony between the two, merely by time distribution may be inadequate. Just like water and oil, they can never be mixed. Forcing the two to mix will only create frustration and helplessness.

By and large, we do things that will make us feel good about ourselves. When we become really proficient in doing something, we tend to enjoy the doing more. A professional violinist will pursue for personal mastery in playing the instrument until he or she feel as one with the instrument. When both fused as one, it is not possible to describe the violinist without including the instrument. Only passion can provide such energy and sustenance for any individual to achieve such personal mastery.

Whatever we do, passion is the renewable energy and fuel that drives us to go on and on. Regardless as parents, couples or professionals, we find the fitting impetus to sustain ourselves in playing the role we chose to play. The impetus can be interpreted in many ways. E.g. monetary gains, social values, career progression, humanitarian aid, etc are common impetus we have. Underlying all these, only passion can provide the needed sustenance to combat the fatigue brought by time and repetition.

With a doubt, passion is the element to integrate the unmixable work and life. Since avoiding work entirely is not possible, why not passionately integrate it into our lives? The next important question is,

What is WorkLife Integration?
No surprise for the right answer. It is simply whatever that works for you. It emphasizes on freedom and choices, diminishing restrictions and fixations. Although this may sound a little lame but nothing can be further than the truth. It lies in the paradigm we hold towards WorkLife Balance to begin with. To make this work, the next critical challenge is the ability to shift the paradigm from WorkLife Balance to WorkLife Integration.

Firstly, what is WorkLife Integration NOT? This requires clarification, otherwise this fresh idea will face the same paradoxical transformation as that of WorkLife Balance.

– It is not working non-stop
– It is not forgetting to rest
– It is not about increasing promotional chances
– It is not to create a workaholic
– It is not about exploiting labor
– It is not a fixation of rules

WorkLife Integration is a trusting relationship between the staff and organization. It is an exchange of freedom and responsibilities. It is aligning personal vision and the organization’s shared vision.

Passion drives both work and life. Sure there are people you have come across as possessing little or no passion in life. This largely due to the inaccurate paradigm these people hold. They may be holding a well constructed Singapore street map but trying to navigate in Chicago.

The Journey Towards WorkLife Integration
At the core, everyone wish to be able to perform his work at the time it matters most, right? Fundamentally, time is not controlled by us and this would nullify the mentioned wish, right? There are numerous books written on seizing control, managing the 24hours you have, etc. I should share with you at this point of time that I am not a proponent on the “control” paradigm. The simple reason is control will revert us back to fixation subconsciously. That is not what we want to do. While I don’t advocate control, that doesn’t mean we leave things to chance. Instead of living by a time table that most of us have failed to adhere to, let view WorkLife Integration as guiding principles towards blending the seemingly unmixable Work and Life.

Principles of avoidance are common in this world. For example for dieting, most advices prompt the subject to avoid certain food and adhere to certain regimes in order to succeed. We know all to well the chances of making it. Another common principle is illuminating the wrong-doings. This doesn’t encourage the practitioners to do better but reminding them their faults. This isn’t a fine feeling to carry especially when we are trying to climb a hill. Such principles act as laws to expose our imperfections, moreover we set up these laws only to realize we can’t keep up with them. In essence, both principles have failed to liberate the practitioners or subjects. It does little to provide any passion for us to pursue the vision.

Instead, we should create a vision that will pull us towards it. Extracting from Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline, the chapter on shared vision;

In the movie Spartacus, an adaptation of the story of a Roman gladiator/slave who led an army of slaves in a uprising in 71 B.C. They defeated the Roman legions twice but were conquered by the general Marcus Crassus after a long siege and battle. Crassus told the thousand army slaves; “You have been slaves, you will be slaves again. But you will be spared from crucifixion if you turn the slave, Spartacus over to me.” After a long pause, Spartacus stood up and claim identity as Spartacus. Another man next to him claimed identity too. Following that, the entire slave army stood up and claim identity as Spartacus.

We could attribute the response to Spartacus’s leadership. However, underlying his ability to inspire lie the shared visions of gaining freedom and not to be enslaved again that were so compelling to everyone, at all cost every slave responded by standing up, a reflection of being pulled towards shared vision.

Rallying everyone’s commitment is imperatives for WorkLife Integration to succeed. Leaders play the critical role in endorsing the principles as the beacons whilst the organization is navigating towards the vision. Setting a clear vision of WorkLife Integration can never be overly emphasized. Using widely accepted vision statements will not only be forgotten but it may even turn into a cliché. Without passion in the statement, there will be no visible actions. Since blending Work and Life is controversial, the vision statement should provide similar edge to keep the passion alive and it must sticks. Consider this; “coming to work late but knocking off early.” Isn’t this a vision to go for, to be attracted to?

Any freshly created vision statement is like the having skeletons, we need to add meat for its completion. It is therefore necessary to form the guiding principles of the mentioned vision statements; this will prevent any mutation in the future. Below are some general principles that will most appropriately describe WorkLife Integration.

– Trust in return for freedom
– Leading and Following by principles
– Focus on where to go, not what to avoid
– More inquiry, less advocacy
– Commitment, not compliance
– Encourage personal mastery in every staff

These are not all there are; the fundamental to living WorkLife Integration is not applying control, setting up fixated boundaries, having thousand of guidelines, non-stop scrutiny, etc. The basis is about freedom to exercise responsibilities that is built on the foundation of trust.

Reflecting It In Work Processes
Having general principles can help to create the excitement for this new vision also the impetus for people to get committed. However it will soon fade away if the visibility of WorkLife Integration is not reflected in the daily work processes and procedures. Therefore, it is important to look into the existing work routines and make necessary adjustments to create the visibility. Here are a few examples,

  • Introduce flexible work hours
  • Team accountability versus individual
  • Organize lifestyle related activities
  • Gazette time for staff development and personal mastery
  • Give recognition to personal mastery achievements

Again the above list is not exhaustive, it is important that personal choice is respected as the basis. Certainly living in the non-ideal world, it is important not to convert personal ideals into expectations. This will send our minds back to stone-age where things are as a matter of fact. As we move with time, the notion of working will inevitably evolve but the guiding principles towards work and life should not change. Let’s live a life with passion and not fixation.


Chinese Book on Leadership



论 语 has been passed down since the Han Dynasty, which is about 20 centuries ago. There has been some misunderstanding by many that it is a writing that is passed down by 孔子,Confucius. However, the fact is that it is a compilation of his teachings by his disciples through their engagements and experience with their master.

论语 has always been a must read for students and leaders. It has even been listed under the 四书五经,which are compulsory texts that will be tested during their imperial exams all the way back to the Tang Dynasty. Basically, Confucius has always been closely associated with the word, 仁政,as he strongly believe that only those who can feel for the world will rule the world. 仁 can come in many forms and meanings. From, it means Humane. From, it means benevolent. From, it also means humane and仁政 means policies for the good of the people or a humane government. So generally, the word cannot void itself from the human factor that one has to have a heart for the people and decide for the benefit of the people.

This is further elaborated in the book; 三国演义,which has loads of stories listing down the positive and negative impact of leadership. For example, lousy leaders like 董卓 (Dong Zhuo) ,刘禅 (Liu Chan) ,丁原 (Ding Yuan) are some of them who have not only failed to lead but also failed to live long enough. Both董卓 and 丁原were basically killed by their god son and it happened to be the same person, 呂布 (Lu Bu) and there is also a strategist, 诸葛亮, Zhu Ge Liang, mentioned in his conversation with 刘备, Liu Bei who one of the three rulers, that although 曹操, Cao Cao, hasthe advantage 天时, which means the advantage of the situation. 孙权 has the benefit of 地力, which is one positioned in a location that gives you the benefit during attack and defense. However, 刘备 who possesses 人和, the trust and being popular to the people, is in a much better position. 诸葛亮 rank the 3 elements saying that天时不如地力,而地力不如人和。So人和 is being ranked first, followed by 地力 and last but not least 天时. He ranks the benefit and trust of people in the topmost priority while having an upper hand in the situation last. This explains that his belief of a great leader is one who has support from the people.

It is the people who form the country; it is the people who form the world. There is a saying in Chinese, 天下是天下人的天下。It simply means that the world belongs to the people of the world. Most of the time this is to elaborate that a single ruler does not own the world but deliver what the people of the world wants. Leaders are servants. The Chinese beliefs further expand this point by saying,君者,需先天下之优而优,后天下之乐而 乐。A leader should be able to foresee and worry the future before the world starts worrying. On the other hand, they will enjoy the fruit of success after the world has tasted it. In reality, how many leaders are able to accomplish this, by putting the people’s benefit before oneself? 曹操 is one of such leader who does not act with such beliefs.

 His belief was expressed when he had to run away from董卓 when his assassination plan failed. He had to escape and leave the capital and hid himself in an associate’s place. At night, he killed the host and his family as he suspected them of trying to sell him out. When he was questioned of his action by his accomplice陈宫, Chen Gong, his answer was, 宁我负天下人,也不愿天下人负我。This statement basically brings out personality of the person, being lack of trust of people and focusing only one self interest. In the end, he died as he had no trust of the advice given by the doctor, 化陀,Hua Tuo that he needs an operation to remove the brain tumor that he has. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that during that period of time, 曹操 is the one who holds the greatest power. He took the emperor hostage and claimed his place as the premier. His forces conquered more than half of the Chinese continent. However, his conquest was put on a halt by the combined forces of and 孙权.

One of the famous battles between 诸葛亮 and 司马义, 诸葛亮 had demonstrated the importance of a strong and compassionate leader. It was a holding war that诸葛亮 was planning, so he divided his forces into 2 rosters where each will take turn to defend the stronghold. 司马义 found out about such arrangement and he launched an attack during the change over period where the defense is the weakest as the holding force is worn out and the fresh supply of soldier has not taken over yet. Knowing about the attack, instead of getting the soldiers to get ready and prepare for the attack, 诸葛亮 actually summoned the troops to pack up and get ready to move out and hand over their duty leaving the fortress to be emptied. As the generals questioned his intention, he replied that he had promised the exchange and he will steadfast to his promise. Even if there is no more troops left, he will defend the stronghold on his own. Hearing this, the troops volunteered to stay and fight, so he used the renowned, 空城计, the empty vessel strategy to defeat the troop lead by 司马义.


One of the famous
battles between 诸葛亮 and 司马义, 诸葛亮 had demonstrated the importance of a strong
and compassionate leader. It was a holding war that诸葛亮 was planning, so he
divided his forces into 2 rosters where each will take turn to defend the
stronghold. 司马义 found out about such arrangement and he
launched an attack during the change over period where the defense is the
weakest as the holding force is worn out and the fresh supply of soldier has
not taken over yet. Knowing about the attack, instead of getting the soldiers
to get ready and prepare for the attack, 诸葛亮 actually summoned the troops to pack up and
get ready to move out and hand over their duty leaving the fortress to be
emptied. As the generals questioned his intention, he replied that he had
promised the exchange and he will steadfast to his promise. Even if there is no
more troops left, he will defend the stronghold on his own. Hearing this, the
troops volunteered to stay and fight, so he used the renowned, 空城计, the empty vessel strategy to defeat the troop lead by 司马义.

All these examples
that are cited are debatable for its credential, but nevertheless, as the
saying goes, 空穴来风,未必无因, which means that
things happen for a reason. These are just the tip of the ice berg as the
history of China has given rise to several great leaders like, 岳飞,孙子,毛泽东,成吉思汗,忽必烈,etc.

All in all, a Leader
is one who leads and others follow. I heard this from a colleague that a true
leader is one who appoints another to lead and he will follow the one he has
appointed even when in doubts. Well, definitely not everyone is able to do that.
One biggest flaw of a leader is one who cannot relinquish his power once his
task is over. Hence, the next person taking over will face the pressure to
comply and the followers being lost and not know who to follow. 孙子曰:将者,智,信,仁,勇,严也。By not relinquishing power to the newly appointed leader, the
new leader will lose the element of 信 and 严 and he will not be able to reward and
promise, furthermore, he will not be able to fulfill what he promise as his
promise might easily be over turn by the previous leader. Why is it so
difficult for one to totally hand over his power to another? Probably because
one would think that no one can do better than him or it might even be the case
where one enjoys the feeling of being in power. Well, one thing that is proven
in history is that almost all emperors faced the same succession problems. They
are never prepared to name their heir or train some one capable and not from
the bloodline to take over the throne.

As the saying goes, 一山不能容二虎。A clear leader must be
appointed and the other can always be consulting and advising not having 2
leaders trying to sort things out every time situations arises, resulting in
delayed decisions and lost opportunities. Having more than 1 leader also
creates the problem whereby one may undermine the decision of the other making
one look good and the other looking like a fool.

In the end of the day,
what kind of a leader you choose to be is entirely up to you and time and the
people around you will tell if you have been an effective leader. Some may
debate saying that worse case I don’t step into the role of leadership, but let
us take a step back and observe. Aren’t we always leading our own life?


VUCA 2.0 in the current COVID-19 outbreak

VUCA 2.0 in the current COVID-19 outbreak


The current COVID-19 virus has certainly been the embodiment of a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), catching not only companies but also entire countries off guard with how fast it has spread beyond China’s borders. With no cure or end in sight currently, it has forced the hand of many companies to take drastic measures, such as working from home to reduce risk of viral spread, or taking no pay leave or pay cuts to combat unforeseen losses and in preparation for a possible recession in the days ahead.

So what exactly is VUCA? And how do we navigate this current VUCA situation?

First introduced as a concept by the American War College to describe the global multilateral situation after the Cold War, it draws upon the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, and has over the years, been increasingly used in business management and strategic leadership.


VOLATILITY is a situation with unstable changes, and unexpected challenges that could last for an unknown duration. However knowledge is readily available and it might not be hard to understand.

Eg. Mask prices going up and supplies going down during the COVID-19 situation where demand sharply increases plus hoarding by people, coupled with factories in China being crippled by the situation.

UNCERTAINTY is a situation where there is a lack of predictability, even though the basic cause and effect might be known.

Eg. Currently no one can be sure if or when the viral spread has reached its peak, or when things will normalize.

COMPLEXITY is a situation with countless interlinked variables and factors, with some or all of the information available or predicted, but the sheer scale of it makes it challenging to process.

Eg. The COVID-19 situation has spread beyond most, it not all borders, and with different healthcare policies, speed of responses, availability of expertise and resources to tackle the virus amongst the different countries, it has proven difficult to execute a coordinated response to stem the spread.

AMBIGUITY is a situation where cause and effect is not so clear, there is no prior experience to fall back on, and the management faces an unclear reality or future filled with countless unknowns.

Eg. To date, researchers are still unclear of the exact source of the COVID-19 virus, how it spreads, and what the most effective way to stem the spread is. Even a timeline to create a working vaccine is unclear.


However, does this mean that companies are left defenseless against this VUCA situation? There are still measures that can be taken, that might not totally solve the challenges, but could at least prepare companies and mitigate the potential negative impact of the COVID-19 situation.

Which brings us to the VUCA antidote (Vision, Understanding, Courage, Adaptability), or VUCA 2.0, as coined by Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School.

VISION is the ability to see through the fog and have a vision ahead for your organization. Things you could do during this period are to take the chance to stop, evaluate, and strategize for when the dust settles. For example doing R&D to have a new product ready to launch when suitable, or up skilling employees. This situation will definitely settle eventually, and if organizations have planned for what to do when the time comes, they will be anticipating and ready to move ahead of others who have not.

What is your vision?

UNDERSTANDING is where leaders first have to truly understand their organization’s strengths and potential blind spots, in order to pick the best strategies that play to their advantages. In this stage, information gathering is crucial, not only within the organization but also outside, from as wide a spectrum as possible, ranging from employees, to clients, and even about the industry and economy. This is especially evident during this period, seeing how increasingly interconnected the globalised economy has become, with no one emerging unscathed from the COVID-19 virus spread. This crucial understanding and wide spread information gathering will allow your organization to better understand the challenges the virus pose, and with that be better able to develop strategies to counter them.

Do you know what you don’t know?

COURAGE is the audacity during difficult times to make decisions based on calculated risks that could go against all common practice and beliefs. Sometimes, organizations have to consider going against traditionally successful techniques and take risks, because in the rapidly changing world of today, being second to take action could be the difference between survival and failure. While many organizations are taking measures now to cut costs amidst losses from the COVID-19 situation, and in anticipation of a potential recession, some organizations have actually chosen to invest in infrastructure, moving their production facilities to lower cost countries in preparation for when things get back to normal. Not only do they take advantage of the depressed prices now, but also in the future as their costs of operations will be lower.

Risk more than others think is safe. Dream more than others think is practical. (Howard Schultz)

ADAPTABILITY is essentially the need for organizations to be flexible to change and fit today’s ever changing world. While mid and long term plans are necessary, strategies do have to be flexible enough to rapidly adapt to external circumstances, without affecting or changing the organization’s overarching vision and mission. The COVID-19 virus is the perfect example of this, the rapid global spread of the virus catching everyone completely off guard.  Once seemingly thought to have been contained within China, it has soon spread to all 4 corners of the globe with no end or cure currently in sight. Organizations will then require multiple contingency plans not just to survive through this challenging period, but also how to make up for lost revenue and continue growth when the situation improves.

Adaptability is about the powerful difference between adapting to cope and adapting to win. (Max McKeown)


With the current situation as it is, organizations cannot afford to stay still and hope for the best, especially without a clear timeline available. Organizations will have to hold fast to their mission, vision and values, while employing the strategies from VUCA 2.0, to not only pull through these challenging times, but also to prepare them with strategies and resources on hand, ready to move ahead of the competition when the dust settles and things normalize.


Crisis Leadership through COVID-19

Crisis Leadership through COVID-19


The Chosen One

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man.”

The action of Winston Churchill leading his people through World War II links with this proverb. It expresses the ideology of the chosen ones that will come forth to lead the people in times of crisis


The Crisis

The time of crisis as we speak is very much here. Two types of crisis can be seen happening at the same time, financial crisis and natural crisis.  Covid-19 is taking away millions of lives across the world in unprecedented speed. Unless world leaders take shift actions to control the situation. But, this is not an easy battle to win. A wrong decision could make things worse such as trust and unleash tension among the people (BBC, 2020).


Look at your leaders (company or country) to understand and determine what are the priorities they have. Think about how are the leaders creating clarity of the situation and protect people.


Communication during crisis

Political Scientist Arjen Boin at Leiden University of Netherlands did research on successful responses from staff during previous emergencies. Boin pointed out that it is very important for the leaders to not sugar coat the message to the people as it would add to the feelings of confusion and distrust (BBC, 2020).


Many leaders do not understand or appreciate the impact of their messages to the people. If a leader does not prime the people on the possible severity of situations, there could be major issues in the down line regardless of the severity. Without being open about the situation, the leaders would lose credibility and trust among their people in their plans of action. After all, we are all humans and have a family to take care of. This will show the importance of leadership.


So what would be key steps or factors that any leader in any capacity would be good to have to tide through the storm such as the CO-VID 19 ?


VUCA and VUCA Prime

VUCA Prime, designed
by Bob Johansen from Institute for the future, acts as a counterweight to VUCA.


What is VUCA?

VUCA represents the
different drivers for change and it applies in any scenarios. VUCA in strategic
management is something quite often searched about as well.


V – Volatility,

Meaning: nature and the
increasing pace of change, just like the market volatility

Example : physical
shutdowns-> business without online capability suffered.

U – Uncertainty,

Meaning: the lack of
predictability of the future

Example: Singapore
announced the circuit breaker forcing teams to telecommute to continue

C – Complexity

Meaning: the state or
quality of being intricate or complicated. The concept of having too many
interwoven processes that affect the bigger picture

Example: Calling for
DORSCON Red is a complex situation as that decision will cause ripple effects
in areas such as economical and sociological


A – Ambiguity.

Meaning: the quality of
being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness.

Example: The job scope of
an individual without clearly written may sound ambiguous as people could have
a different interpretation of it.



VUCA Prime

Each of the situation
mentioned above can have a counterweight to lessen the effects.


Volatility – Vision



Meaning: Paint a picture
of the future you want. Together.

Example: In any industry,
predicting market movement is hard. If leaders are able to set mission
statements or goal-settings, people to be able to move towards a target in
mind. This, despite the many changes that we have to tide through along the
way. Another example will be when we are out at sea sailing we set our sight on
our goal – an island. This helps the team to stay focused on their end goal and
work in unity towards it.

Uncertainty –

With so much
uncertainty going around, it is almost close to impossible to predict the
market. Hence, the best way to counter this is to practice Understanding.



Meaning: Understand
what’s going on and of the team.

Example : Keeping up to
date with the external news, keeping in touch with your remote team, looking
out for opportunities.

By understanding the
situation, we manage the uncertainty of the issue at hand and come up with more
effective solution. By understanding the virus, we would know better how to
contain and defeat the virus.


Complexity – Clarity

The more complex it
is, the more likely that we would need more time and effort to come up with a
solution to achieve the results we seek for.



Meaning: showing
comprehension of a subject, or compassion or sympathy for another person.

Example: Knowing the
root cause of a problem by asking questions that will bring us deeper into the


When we seek to
understand, we help to increase the clarity of the situation and the possible
solutions that we can attempt to do things. By providing clarity on the virus
and the do’s and don’t’s of the law, people will feel confident and supportive
of the situation and support what’s stated by the leaders.


Ambiguity – Agility



Meaning: To move,
think and understand quickly and easily.

Example: Being
flexible to the surrounding like how water takes its shape from the container.


By being agile to
making changes to the situation and coming up with alternatives as and when
necessary to move a step closer to the end goal and being the winner


4 steps towards Crisis

Hence, it is even more
important now than ever before for leaders to do the following on top of the
VUCA steps:


  1. Lead their people
    with a clear and concise plan in mind.


  1. Empathising to the
    people, their concerns and offering words of encouragements in getting through
    this period.


  1. Being clear about
    the plans for the company expect to ensure everyone involved knows what to


  1. Being confident in
    the face of this situation and that plans are in place in the short term to
    help everyone in it to get through this situation safe and sound and to grow
    the company and the people in the long term as though we didn’t lose a beat.


Yet, as the saying
goes, words are mere words until we get to see them in action, right?