Why Your Change Effort Requires A Dose of Spiritualism

Jesus. Steve Jobs. Nelson Mandela. Inna Shevchenko. What do they have in common?

Yes, they are all the world’s most radical change leaders! They went all out to advocate and implement change that is bigger than themselves. The first three names in the above are household names. But who the heck is Inna Shevchenko? In case you haven’t heard of her, she is one of the leaders of Femen, the world’s most radical feminist movement. And during her interview with the Atlantic, she talked about her devotion to her cause.

“I don’t need a boyfriend. I don’t need human warmth. At this stage of my life, I’m devoting myself to my activism, and that’s that.”

Inna Shevchenko

What a bizarre statement! Who doesn’t need human warmth? Aren’t all of us social beings? What was she thinking?

Inside the mind of Radical Change Leader: Spirituality

In fact, all radical change leaders eerily serene when forsaking their personal relationships and devoting their life to realise their seemingly impossible idea. Both Steve Jobs and Nelson Mandela neglected their family, while Jesus denied his own family – as described in Matthew.

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12: 46 – 50

I think the lesson that you and I (and the rest of common folks) can learn is not so much about prioritising work over life to achieve success, but is about adding steel into our feeble mind or having resilience when leading change initiative.

Change is hard. Leading change effort can be depressing. Over many years of leading the most difficult change initiatives (i.e. KM efforts), I have never seen smooth-sailing change initiatives. I question myself many times on my ability to lead the change initiatives, on whether the change is heading towards the right direction, and on whether I should deem the change as a lost cause. I bet, just like I do, you have those crazy moments too.

This is where you and I can learn from the world’s most radical change leaders. I think, and I have mentioned this earlier this year, all change leaders should embrace spiritualism. I’m not encouraging you to be a religious zealot, but to be spiritual without being religious. Being spiritual will strengthen your determination and grant you wisdom to retreat when necessary. And being spiritual will bring you joy and sense of meaning especially when the whole world seems to go against you.

Spirituality-laced Change Management Is Not New. Embrace It! 

Am I out of my mind to suggest infusing spirituality into change management? Not at all. I’m not the first who propose this idea. Peter Senge in his bestselling book – the Fifth Discipline mentioned about personal mastery (see the following illustration for Learning Organisation’s Three-Legged Stool framework). That’s the “spirituality” that I’m referring to! I certainly don’t mean Deepak Chopra type of spirituality.


Spirituality to me is about having personal mastery. In brief, Peter Senge defined personal mastery as follows:

Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.

Further explanation of personal mastery definition can be found here.

Have you ever encounter unreasonable people who just can’t appreciate the reality or who don’t have any aspiration? This is where Peter Senge’s insight on personal mastery (i.e. spirituality) comes in. Senge is right to say that personal mastery is one of the five disciplines of Learning Organisation (i.e. transformational change). He is right because pre-requisite to change initiative is maturity. Mature leaders (who have mastered personal mastery) are required to sustain and grow the change effort into a successful one.

Spirituality/personal mastery can nurture people to be a mature leader, a change-ready leader. Embrace it and use it to transform yourself and your organisation.

Have you embraced spirituality? Why? Or Why Not?  

10 Interesting Contestants of Miss World 2012

Miss China won miss world 2012 Wohoo! I’m happy for her because I’m chinese and I’m displaying my chinese solidarity. Furthermore, to best of my knowledge, this is the first time an asian won an international beauty contest. I think. Go figure if this is correct.

But seriously, why can’t they pick a better-looking, more articulate and sweet looking miss Hong Kong? Or the beautiful miss Macau? The judges must be blind. Or it could be because of the heat in Ordos – the chinese ghost town in Inner Mongolia, China.

Check out miss Hong Kong

And miss Macau

Among the three Chinese women, my favorite is definitely miss Hong Kong. Pretty girl, she is. My other favorite race of contestants is White. Here are the four most beautiful White contestants – in my opinion:

1. Miss USA 2012

2. Miss Spain 2012

3. Miss Mexico 2012

4. Miss Poland 2012

What do you think of them? Absolutely gorgeous right?

So far, I have shown you my six top contestants. Next, I will show you four contestants that illustrate the effect of multiculturalism philosophy. Here they are:

1. Miss Portugal 2012

2. Miss Belgium 2012

3. Miss South Africa 2012

4. Miss Australia 2012

I’m not going to comment on their looks. I will leave the honor to you – dear reader.

So that’s it folks! The 10 contestants whom I think are interesting. Six of them are interesting because they are beautiful. The remaining four are interesting because they represent multiculturalism.

Who are your favorite contestants?

Back to Engineering! (Or Why SMRT Is Doing the Right Thing)

SMRT to refocus on its engineers, The Straits Times, 12 May 2012.

I – a loyal SMRT customer for the past 12 years – applaud SMRT chairman, Koh Yong Guan, who wanted to give more attention to the engineers. I think Mr Koh hit the nail on its head on where SMRT should be headed. Engineering excellence should be one of the organisational pillar of SMRT.

Under the leadership of Saw Phaik Hwa, SMRT seems to focus more on profitability than on engineering excellence. That’s probably one of the reasons why Ms. Saw brought retail shops to MRT stations. Unfortunately this new initiative has yet to yield some profits.

However, I sympathise with Ms. Saw. It is easy to cast aside the boring engineering matters when everything went well. Furthermore, talking about technical stuff has long been considered as “operational” and thus the “strategic” management executives should focus more on the sexy profitability – especially when this is what the board wanted.

What Mr Koh did, consciously or not, is elevating the importance of engineering matters in the top management’s agenda. By doing so, engineers can have the top management’s attention whenever they  brought up concerns about engineering stuff or whenever they have ideas on how to improve SMRT’s engineering excellence.

The top management’s attention is like a premium fuel that would energise (read: motivate) the engineers to put forth their ideas and to speak up about possible engineering problems. At last, the engineers are being heard by the top management. At last, they can feel good about doing a good job.

The top management’s attention is like a premium fuel that would energise the engineers

Without the top management’s attention, the engineers will feel unappreciated and become demotivated over the long run (why bother bringing up ideas when the bosses are more interested in sales?). Under this situation, if I were SMRT engineer, I would either join another engineering company, or reinvent myself to be a retail sales expert.

Credit to Mr. Koh for bringing SMRT back to its engineering roots! Mr. Koh also shows that leadership matters* because leaders have the power to shape the organisational culture by giving appropriate attention to key focus areas and the people who have the right expertise.

I’m looking forward to the transformation of SMRT.

Note: I can empathise with SMRT’s engineers not because I’m one of them (I’m not an engineer and I have never worked for SMRT), but because I’m an intranet / information professional and a Knowledge Management (KM) practitioner.

Getting the management’s attention on intranet excellence is, I guess, an uphill battle that every intranet professional have to go through many times in the life span of the intranet.



*A former US secretary of state, Madeline Albright, spoke about the importance of leadership in her excellent book, Prague Winter. Read her thoughts in a recent Forbes interview transcript.

Barcamp Singapore 2012 Through My Eyes

I attended Barcamp Singapore 2012 on 12 May 2012 at Tembusu College, NUS.

It has been a while since I last visited NUS campus. And boy, what a tranformation NUS campus has gone through. I’m disoriented when I didn’t see the university hall, and instead I saw a big sign, that says university town. The signs pointed to Science faculty direction. I was like “Huh? What’s going on?”.

Thankfully, the perennial landmark, Yusof Ishak House is still there. So I boarded an internal bus service, D1. And then the bus went to a flyover and stopped at new modern buildings named CREATE. That’s where I alighted.

I made my way through, to Tembusu college. The clear signage along the way clearly helps. Here, look at the impressive buildings. (I can’t help but feeling envious to the current batch of NUS students. I wish NUS campus was this beautiful when I was a student).

University Town, NUS. This is where I alighted from internal shuttle bus. (Impressive, eh?).

University Town, NUS. On my way to Tembusu College

Education Resource Centre, University Town, NUS

Tembusu College, NUS. (Finally, I reached the barcamp venue).

Once I reached Tembusu college, I knew I was at the right place when I saw these.

The Singapore Barcamp logo

Topic Board at Singapore Barcamp


Event schedule of Singapore Barcamp

I was in Barcamp Singapore between 11am and 12.30pm. As any typical barcamp session, there were talks about programming (heavy stuff). I don’t think I can understand those technical talks. So I chose the less technical ones, i.e. Singapore mini maker faire by William, lightning talks, and my adventures in the Balkans and Hungary by Sayanee.

I learned quite a few interesting information / insights.

1. Singapore mini maker faire is just around the corner! It will be held on 4 – 5 August 2012 at Science centre.

2. During one the lightning talks titled Our Robotic Future, I learned that the world has 18 million robots today. The speaker added that robots will allow human to build things at a much faster rate. This implies, people have to make the right decision faster since robots can do rapid implementation of ideas. So making the right decision will be a competitive advantage – which means the decision science and the decision-support system will gain more prominence in the near future.

3. In another lightning talk, I learned about the power of HTML5 and CSS3 in transforming how we present ideas. Good bye static presentation-slides deck! (Yes, I’m talking about Microsoft Powerpoint). The future belongs to people who can visualise their ideas using dynamic presentation tool such as impress.js

4. Sayanee talked about her adventures in the balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia) and Hungary. Throughout her talk, I kept thinking that I should visit eastern Europe one day. I love medieval castles and churches. She also talked about Gavrilo Princip – a man who was considered as a patriot by the Serbians and a terrorist by Austrians. The difference between patriotism and terrorism is a matter of perspective.

Did you attend Barcamp Singapore? What did you learn?

5 Things All of Us Can Learn From Margaret Thatcher

Iron lady is a great film about the life of Margaret Thatcher – the longest serving British Prime Minister. I admit, I didn’t know much about the UK iron lady (a.k.a. Margaret Thatcher) before I watched the film. But wow, I’m impressed with her personality.

No doubt, there are a lot of things that we can learn from her. For a start, I think all of us can learn five good lessons from her rise to (and fall from) the summit of UK government.

1. Get a meaningful job

“Do the job that you love” mantra is a time-and-tested way to be successful. In the movie, Thatcher told her soon-to-be husband that she did not want to waste her time washing dishes. And she insisted that “one’s life must matter”.

The lesson here is not so much about washing dishes sucks, but rather you should define what kind of job that excites you and go for it. (I’m sure there are people in this world who are passionate about washing dishes. But to Thatcher, washing dishes is a meaningless activity.)

2. Surround yourself with people who believe in you

No one is perfect and this is a fact of life. But why should you make your life harder, by hanging out with people who think that you have 1,001 things to improve? Stay away from these people because they will suck your energy and hurt your self worth. Instead connect with people who believe in you.

Thatcher surrounded herself with people who believe in her potential like Airey Neave. They encouraged her to lead the conservative party and offered help/advices on the few things that Thatcher has to improve, to fulfill her potential.

3. Use your own criteria to decide what to change about yourself

Who has the right to tell you on what to change about yourself? Nobody but yourself and someone whom you have deep respect. The truth is, we know ourselves better than anyone else. And thus, we should be the worst critics of ourselves – not someone else.

In the movie, Thatcher insisted that she wouldn’t be persuaded, not to wear her pearl necklace. And she brushed off the doctor who seemed to know what her feelings were.  She believed thoughts and ideas were more important than feelings.

Watch your thoughts for they’d become words. Watch your words for they’d become habits. Watch your habits, for they’d become your character. And watch your character, it would become your destiny.

- Margaret Thatcher

4. To change things, lead the change initiative

In the movie, Airey Neave told Thatcher to lead the party if she want to change it. I totally agree with Neave on this, i.e. to change things, you need to lead the change initiative! (apparently, this view is not uncommon). Napoleon Bonaparte seems to share this view too.

I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies.

- Napoleon Bonaparte

Who else can do a better job in communicating change and determining how to get there, than the person who fervently believe that change must be done? It makes perfect sense to be the leader of the change initiative when you are the most passionate advocate of change.

5. Be gentle when giving criticism

In the movie, Thatcher was warned, “…not to test one’s colleagues loyalty too far”. Unfortunately, she didn’t listen.

In her last days in office, Thatcher alienated many of her colleagues by easily dismissing their views and acting like a dictator. She brutally criticised Geoffrey Howe in front of other cabinet members – prompting his resignation from the cabinet and eventually this leads to her own downfall.


Have you watched the movie: The Iron Lady? What life lesson did you learn?

My Life (1981 – now): A Review

Happy Water Dragon Lunar New Year! (Gong Xi Fa Cai!) With new year, comes new hopes and aspirations. So I thought I’ll do a review of my life thus far. This is my first time doing a life review.

What triggers me to do a life review? Well, time flies and life is short. So I need to examine whether I have been living the way I want it to be. It’s the right time for a review, because the year 2011 (metal rabbit lunar year) had been so special to me in many ways:

  • January 2011: I got married
  • April 2011: I got promoted (my first-ever promotion in a job)
  • July 2011: I hit the big 3-0 (I’m 30 years old)
  • September 2011: I traveled to central Europe for the first time. I had a super good time there.
  • November 2011: For the first time in my life, I spoke in front of an audience about something that I’m passionate about (no, it’s not directly related to my work).
  • December 2011: the biggest achievement in my life so far: I became a father.

Not bad eh? After all those achievements, you probably think that I’m contented and happy.

But I’m not…

Hold your judgment. I’m not a greedy ungrateful dude that you think I’m. I’m not contented because I miss my life, back in 1999. That’s when everything in my life went so well. I managed to prove people wrong. No one believed I could achieve my dreams. But I did it! I went to National University of Singapore, and I got a pretty girlfriend.

Ah, the sweet taste of victory. This movie clip pretty much described my feelings in 1999.

Oh gosh! Now I get it. I know the result of my life review now. Here it is:

My current life sucks

Yep, that’s true. My life sucks. Despite all my achievements, I don’t feel any glory like the one that I had in 1999. And my current life doesn’t lead me to shout: “I’m the king of the world!” (that’s how I felt back in 1999). I have nothing to shout about now. My life thus far has been average. Average in happiness and success. Simply average in every angle!

It’s not about being grateful for what I have (I’m grateful for everything that I have now). But it’s about being outstanding – not being average. It’s about wanting more and about shaping the world around me, the way I want it. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Listen to Steve Jobs in the interview clip below, and you’ll see that I’m not so crazy after all.

I know I’m capable of achieving so much more. I believe in myself. I believe in my ability – because no one else will.

It’s 2012 (water dragon lunar year). And I have bigger dreams now. I won’t tell you what these dreams are, because according to Derek Sivers, I have to keep my goals to myself. But mark my words: I will make these dreams come true – just like I did in 1999. (I will “go get it. Period.”)

Why SMRT Has to Be More Empathetic and Be a Social Organisation (Part I)

SMRT (Singapore MRT operator) has a huge problem. No, I’m not talking about profits. As the sole operator of MRT in Singapore, they must have been reaping millions of dollars of profits. SMRT’s problem is two-fold. First, its top management has lack of empathy. Second, the organisation doesn’t know how to deal with social customers.

These fatal flaws severely damaged SMRT’s corporate image and handicapped SMRT’s ability to recover its credibility in the eyes of the Singapore public. In this blog post, I’ll talk about the first fatal flaw, i.e. the lack of empathy, and convince you that SMRT’s top management can be more empathetic, by mastering corporate storytelling to present facts. I’ll talk about the second fatal flaw in the next post.

Lack of Empathy

Many Singaporeans depend on MRT to travel. So, it’s no wonder that the public grew angrier at SMRT’s top management, especially its flamboyant CEO, Ms. Saw Phaik Hwa, 57, for failing the fix the issue quickly. Some people even call for Ms. Saw’s resignation in Singapore’s speakers corner.

But the real reason why the public are so upset is the perceived lack of empathy from the SMRT’s top management. Listen to what Ms. Saw Phaik Hwa and Mr. Goh Chee Kong says during press conference below, and you can’t help but notice their lack of empathy.

To exhibit an attitude of “business-as-usual” when crisis stuck, is bad for business. To be successful in today’s economy, organisations have to make that emotional connection with their customers. So when some screw-ups happen, don’t just say sorry and give technical explanation that no one understands.

Who cares about the third rail is misaligned with the collectors’ shoes? I don’t. In fact, I don’t give a damn! All I want to know, as a customer, is how SMRT is going to solve my problem, i.e. how SMRT is going to help me go to work or to go to some malls – to do my Christmas shopping.

Unfortunately, as you can see in the video above, Ms. Saw Phaik Hwa failed to deliver empathetic statements. Immediately after the first train disruption, she made the following cold statements, in national television:

I do know that many customers are very unhappy…there is nothing much to say except that we are very sorry for yesterday’s incident…what we can promise is that we will spare no effort in preventing such occurrence. I personally …improving our incident management…especially in the area of giving timely and better information, as well as crowd management.

Well, the train disruptions did happen again, for the second and third time in four consecutive days. No further respond from her. This may not make her a bad CEO (perhaps she had been working hard behind the scene), but this makes her statement sounds like a series of empty words. No wonder she is under intense pressure.

SMRT has to empathise with their customers! That means they need to understand how train disruptions are going to ruin Singaporeans live (the top twitter harsh tag when the incident happened was #SMRTruinslives. It was a huge hit for SMRT’s brand). They need see the problem from customers’ point of view. And tell the customers how SMRT is going to help them.

This implies, in addition to acknowledgement that the train disruption is going to cause great inconvenience to the customers’ lives, the top management has to offer contingency plan to re-assure customers that when it does happen again, SMRT can deploy cheap alternative transports for the customers – quickly and effectively.

Fortunately, SMRT does understand what needs to be done for service recovery. When the MRT broke down for the second time, the company provided free shuttle bus service for the commuters. But unfortunately, SMRT is clueless on how to present this fact. A horrible blunder.

Although, there were some delays and hiccups that upset some customers, the top management should have communicated that SMRT would provide free shuttle bus service as a contingency measure, when the first train disruption occurred. This would calm the customer and minimise damage to SMRT’s brand.

Too bad the problem and the alternative solution aren’t presented in an engaging story. Stories are the best medium to connect emotionally with the customers. SMRT’s top management has to master corporate storytelling, so that they can better project empathy to the customers.

SMRT’s top management has no other option but to master this storytelling skill. The time where top management can just present facts without stories, is over. Today’s management is about presenting facts in stories.

(To be continued…)

Do you agree that the SMRT’s top management has a lack of empathy towards the customers? What are your thoughts on this matter?

In part II of Why SMRT Has To Be More Empathetic And Be a Social Organisation, I’ll discuss SMRT’s failure in addressing the needs of a new breed of customers: the social customers. Stay tuned!

How Steve Jobs Became a Hero to a Samsung Dude

The above is Steve Job’s legendary commencement speech at Standford University in 2005. It has inspired millions of people to pursue their dreams, and in the words of Jobs’, to “stay hungry, stay foolish”.

Fast forward to 2011, he resigned as Apple’s CEO in August. Here are some tributes and praises given to him by millions of Apple fanatics, tech geeks, business executives, and bloggers:

That’s how Steve Jobs made an impact to people’s lives. You see, tech products used to be boring, bland products. Using tech products means downgrading your image to a boring, socially-defunct geeks. But the arrival of the sexy, sleek, user-friendly, and uber-cool iMacs, iPods, iPads, and iPhones changes this image problem.

Suddenly, geeks can look “hot, rich and glamourous” by using Apple products. Hot babes* now wants to have cool geeks as their boyfriend (only if they own Apple products and they are the long-lost twins of Mark Zuckenberg, Larry Page, or Sergey Brin). And hot babes don’t look hot without an iPhone in their pink Hermes bag.

But that’s not how Steve Jobs made an impact to my life. For a start, I’m not an Apple fan. I’m a Microsoft loyalist (I think Mac OS sucks). Plus, I resisted the temptation to be seen holding the same thing that most people has (an iPhone). I’m a proud owner of Samsung Jet phone (that comes free with 2-year contract). See my beloved Samsung phone below:

I know it doesn’t look glam at all. It’s ok! It serves its function. When I have the means, I’d probably upgrade to Samsung Galaxy SII (yep, the product that looks like iPhone 4 and the one that caused Apple to sue Samsung). (Jobs, if you are reading this, don’t be too upset. I still see you as my hero. Please read on.)

Steve Jobs, to me, is more than just iPads or iPhones. Steve Jobs became my greatest hero and inspiration, because he refused to give-up his dreams. He staged the greatest career came-back in this century when he became Apple CEO in 1997 after he was ousted from Apple’s top management in 1985.

When I first read the life-story of Steve Jobs, I was at the lowest point of my life. I was working in a small, unknown shipping company (while my friends were working for big MNCs), I was paid minimum wages for a college graduate, and I was girlfriend-less. I was so ashamed of my life back then and I thought that was the end of me.

But the life-story of Steve Jobs inspired me. It was kinda “it ain’t over until it is over” moment for me. To me, Steve Jobs was like Mickey (Rocky’s trainer in the movie Rocky) who said, “Get up! You son-of-a-bitch“. Steve Jobs’ story spurred me on. I began to read more books to improve my skills. I took up a Master degree. And I looked for opportunities to get a better job.

Eight years has passed since I first heard about Steve Jobs’ story of sheer perseverance. I’m now working for a large organisation and doing the work that I love. (Thank you Jobs for giving me and others like me such an inspirational story. Your life has impacted millions of people, Apple fan or not.)

Steve Jobs taught me that life isn’t about hitting it right the first time. Life is about persevering and doing the work that you are passionate about. I admired Jobs for that. I wish Jobs a good health and all the best for his new role as chairman of Apple. I hope he continues to inspire us.

Are you also inspired by Steve Jobs’ story? Tell me about it. Share your story in the comment box below.


*I was joking on the “hot babes” part. But I gotcha for a moment, didn’t I?

Further Readings

Nocera, J. (2011). What Makes Steve Jobs Great. The New York Times

(2011). Steve Jobs: His own words. ZDNet

Steve Jobs: the Short Biography. http://www.allaboutstevejobs.com

Linzmayer, O. (2006). Steve Jobs’ Best Quotes Ever. Wired magazine.

Merchant, N. (2010). Apple’s Startup Culture. Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

Roanyong.wordpress.com in 2010

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,500 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 31 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 118 posts. There were 38 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was November 25th with 56 views. The most popular post that day was What is Knowledge Management (KM)?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were en.wordpress.com, facebook.com, twitter.com, churchwarnings.blogspot.com, and paper.li.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for lee hsien yang girlfriend, toyota downfall, stephen tong, cynefin framework, and 7 pillars of society.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


What is Knowledge Management (KM)? September 2010


Toyota’s Downfall: Rapid Growth at the Expense of Knowledge Transfer March 2010


10 Teamwork Lessons from Invictus September 2010


Notes from Design Thinking Summit 2010 October 2010
1 comment


Three Pillars of City Harvest Church (CHC) October 2008