21 February 2014

Uncovering the Mystery of Dao De Jing - The Discovery of Truth

Dao De Jing is a writing that is easy to read and yet deep in mystery. Here is an attempt to uncover the mystery that you may find the great wisdom within.
There are some writings that though we understand the written the words yet we don't understand their meaning. We cannot grasp what the author is trying to say. For example, the many parable told by Jesus as recorded in the Bible. The 'unfortunate' part is that the meaning of the parables is explained by Jesus later and thereby removing the mystery.  In the Chinese literatures, there is the book, Dao De Jing, written by Lao Zi, that I think it exhibits the similar characteristics of a deeper mystery and meaning. Let just start with the first chapter. The Chinese words with literal English translation is as follows:
  1. 道可道,非常道,
    The Way that can be described is not the eternal/common/true way.
  2. 名可名,非常名。
    The name that can be named is not the common/true name.
  3. 无名,天地之始,
    Nameless, is the beginning of heaven and earth.
  4. 有名,万物之母。
    Name, is the mother of ten thousand things.
  5. 故常无欲以观其妙,
    Hence, not constantly having desire to observe the wonders.
  6. 常有欲以观其徼,
    Usually having desire/intention to observe the effects.
  7. 此两者同出而异名,同谓之玄,
    These two methods come from the same root but with different names, both are called mystery.
  8. 玄之又玄,众妙之门。
    Mystery upon mystery, the gate to many wonders.
I think we have no problem with understanding what is written. The key is what does it mean? Why so mysterious?

To help us understand it better, I will give a title to the chapter, "The Pursuit of Truth and the Limitation of our Language".

The book of Dao De Jing is written to explain the Way (of Heaven and Earth and of People that should follow the Way for peace and well being). Recognizing that the language we use is but an abstraction of the reality, it starts the book with such a qualification first. It is telling us to not just read at the surface but to go deeper with reflection to discover the real truth. So, after giving the warning, Lao Zi boldly presented his understand of the way with various examples and analogies later.

So, by putting it additional explanations, perhaps I can uncover the mystery hidden in it.
  • 道可道,非常道,
    The Way that can be described is not the eternal/common/true way because our language is but an abstraction of the reality.
  • 名可名,非常名。
    The name that can be named is not the common/true name because a name is but an identification of the thing and not the whole thing.
  • 无名,天地之始,
    Nameless, is the beginning of heaven and earth because the name is given by man to describe to universe. Without the man, it remains in a nameless form.
  • 有名,万物之母。
    Name, is the mother of ten thousand things because that is what we use to describe all the things of the universe and nature.
  • 故常无欲以观其妙,
    Hence, not having any common desires or motive to observe the wonders. then we can objectively discover the behaviors.
  • 常有欲以观其徼,
    Usually having desire/intention to observe the effects so that we can formulate theories and hypothesis to explain the cause and effects.
  • 此两者同出而异名,同谓之玄,
    These two methods come from the same root(to observe and to understand) but with different names, both are called mystery or rather the uncovering of the mystery for man understanding and benefits.
  • 玄之又玄,众妙之门。
    Mystery upon mystery, the gate to many wonders is by using our exploration and testing methods.
In the sequent chapters, Lao Zi wrote his discovery and observation of the Way for us to understand that we may be careful to follow and not violate the Way.

The Lessons Learned:
The next question that we may ask is how can we benefit from this understanding of Dao De Jing? What are the lessons learned? How can they be applied in our life? Applying the wisdom will lead greater productivity and less conflicts in business and home.
  1. Our understanding of reality is but a partial view of reality. Question our assumptions and biases.
    There are other elements of reality that we may missed or distort because of our biases. So we should not jump to conclusions too quickly. We need to check our assumptions and biases. We may need to make additional observations and cross check our interpretations of the events. 
  2. Understanding begins with giving something a meaningful name that capture the essence of the thing. We must then know how to differentiate and group the named things, knowing the differences and similarities. Building such a concept map of knowledge enables us to incrementally describe the universe.
  3. Our observations and measurements may distort the reality perceived. Question our measures.
    By measuring, we are observing with intention (phase 6) and distort the system under measurement (phase 1 and 2).  KPI (Key Performance Indicators) are typically used by management to drive behavior change and performance in an organization. We need to examine the definition of the KPI, the way of measuring, the motivation and use for the measures (for learning or for incentive), and the behavior developed because of the measures. There needs to be a regular review of the measurement systems. We have heard of the story of smaller nuts and bolts being produced if the incentive is based on the number of units per day and bigger nuts and bolts when the incentive is changed to kg per day.
  4. There are multiple perspectives. See from at least one more perspective?
    So it may be good to consider other perspectives. For parents, may be we can look from our children perspectives. Before we scold or discipline our children, we must first ask them why they did it. We will be surprised that often their intention is good, and we just did not agree with the way they did the thing. For a business, we need to take the perspective of the customers and be not too quick to go on the defensive from customers complains. We may discover lots of good ideas and improvements from their complains. Customers who complain are actually giving us a second chance. If we can fix the issues raise, we will gain their loyalty. 
  5. There is always the new wonder that we can discover by observing with greater objectivity and depth. We should not give up too easily and too early.
  6. We are encouraged to create model, hypothesis and then to test them out.
    Discovery the laws of nature, social interactions and others are worthy activities.
  7. Applying what we learn from on domain, say nature, into another domain, say robotics are good creative exercises.
    Many innovations are being created by learning from nature. We have a term for that, Biomimicry. This is an extension of our learning from Chapter 1.
  8. What other lessons have learned ? Please share with us.
Lim Liat (c) 21 Feb 2014

Previous: The True Teaching of Lao Zi’s Dao De Jing in 1 Minute
Next: The Power of Yin-Yang and the Teaching of Lao Zi

15 February 2014

What else can Meg Whitman Do for HP? I-Ching can tell you.

Turnaround strategies are not unique. There are similar principles that can be followed. A Forbes article described how Meg Whitman did for HP. There is the famous turnaround stories of Steve Jobs for Apple, Lou Gerstner for IBM and the lesser known Anne Mulcahy for Xerox. The Forbes article is short and contains some key turnaround strategies. Here is a my mind-map on Whitman's turnaround strategies:



To look for more, you can google on the above stories and work out additional turnaround strategies. However, there is a great book of wisdom on turn-around strategies and more. That book is I-Ching, the Bible for and of Change, and is the root of Chinese philosophies and wisdom. Here is the mind-map that mapped the turnaround strategies of Meg Whitman to the relevant I-Ching Hexagrams and more. You need to read the mind-map carefully to understand more. If you have done some work on the turnaround of Apple, IBM, Xerox, you will find their strategies are covered in I-Ching. Of course, strategies must be executed in details with domain knowledge to be really successful. But I-Ching does point you to the right directions.

Each of the I-Ching Hexgrams contains a description of the hexagram and 6 more lines of wisdom for further actions. You can buy my book "I-Ching for Success in the VUCA World" to know the details or read the following blog posts: Making I-Ching Come Alive! The Key Principles & Applications and for even more Ancient Chinese Wisdom.

Lim Liat (c) 15 Feb 2014

10 February 2014

6 Types of Prisons and the Story of Great Men that Fall - Wisdom of I-Ching #47 困 Boxed-In

I-Ching gives us 6 types of prisons that also reflect the life story of those great men and women that started with almost nothing, achieve great success, and ended with a great fall. Heed the wisdom of I-Ching to get success and sustain it.
It is commonly acknowledged that the greatest sin is Pride. Pride is the downfall of many greats, including even Satan, the chief of the devils, according to the Bible. Then there is the saying of 3G temptations that bring down many greats too. The 3G stands for Glory, Gold and Girls(or Guys). Glory is related to Pride. Gold is related to riches and wealth. Girls/Guys is related to sexual lust. In I-Ching, there is a hexagram #47 困 Boxed-In or trapped that give us 6 types of prisons. They are:

  1. Prison of Darkness - Lack of knowledge or wisdom.
    The solution is obvious - learn and acquire to wisdom to gain the light and see the way out of the prison.
  2. Prison of Pleasures - Loosing oneself in drinking, dinning and wild partying
    The advice from I-Ching is to save the money on partying and give them to charities instead. Giving may bring the true happiness of inner joy rather than from external simulation of food and wine. The Bible book Ecclesiastes 7:2-6 says that it is better to be in the house of mourning than of feasting because in mourning one can learn and be wise and all the feasting and laughter will only make fool out of us!
  3. Prison of Hardships and Oppositions.
    Going forward is met by stone and yet staying put is like resting on thorns. To break free, one has to consult Hexagram 40 解 Freed – Get with Decisive Actions. 
  4. Prison of Riches.
    Riches and wealth have much power. But somehow with human, we then to get proud and use them wrongly either wasting them on our own luxurious livings or bullying others. 
  5. Prison of Power.
    We can easily recall the popular statement, "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely".
  6. Prison of Anxiety.
    As the world becomes even more uncertain, people worry more and more and suffer from depressions. 
The 3 Prisons that We may have Igorned

Compared with the 3G(Glory=Power, Gold=Riches, Girls=Pleasures) mentioned earlier, the three new prisons introduced by I-Ching are Darkness, Hardship/Oppositions and Anxiety.

The Life Story of Those Great Men/Women that Fall
There is also a progressive relationship among the 6 types of prisons (this is a principle teaching of I-Ching). The beginning prison of darkness is the lack of knowledge. When we get smarter and richer, we may be trapped in pleasures. However, if we get smart and break free from it by continue to work hard and expand, we then encounter the next stage of more and more opposition. Overcoming obstacles and hardships brings forth riches and riches bring forth power. Now that we have riches and power, we may begin to worry about loosing them. Is not this the life history of many great men and women that started with nothing? If only they study and heed the wisdom of I-Ching, they may be able to maintain their success and progress to a greater height instead of the big down fall.

For more on I-Ching, see Making I-Ching Come Alive! The Key Principles & Applications
and even more with Ancient Chinese Wisdom

Lim Liat (c) 10 Feb 2014

08 February 2014

Tan Cheng Bock “uninvited” from LNY party - A Case Study of East vs West Mindsets

The "Uninvited" Chinese New Year Party Incidence is a good case for understanding the East and West Mindsets. The incidence is described in Channel Newsasia Report .

The comparison between East (at least Chinese) and West is in the East West Fusion Mindset as a Key and as Simple as ABC. Note point 5 of the slide.

The Eastern Chinese Mindset is in  The Essence of Sinology or Chinese Mindset - The Values & Methods for 21st Century take note of point 5 of the mindmap.

The Eastern mindset, especially for the Chinese, goes by 情 (relationship, giving face), then 理 reasons/rationale, then 法 laws.

Whereas, the Western mindset goes in the opposite, first 法 laws, then 理 reasons/rationale, then 情 (relationship, giving face).

For the Chinese mindset, giving face and maintaining good relationship are more important than being right. Hence, so what if there be any errors, let's keep the relationship first and give others the face and respect. Once we have the relationship and trust, talking reasons will be more easily accepted. For the person with the Chinese Mindset, he will ignore the mistakes (outdated invitation list) and not make any corrections at all. i.e. no such 'uninvited' apology. Correction comes later, even if a 2nd party is needed.

Western mindset is more concern about reasons and doing the right things. Any errors must be clarified and fixed. The possible impact on relationships and giving face are not considered. So apologies were sent to ensure the party could be done according to the original intention.

This is not a post to judge which is better or right. This is just to show how different mindsets will handle the incidence differently. What do you think? 

How would you handle the case ? 


A European friend said she saw it as a personal relationship rather than a business issue. If it is a business issue, then the rational put it correct 'uninvited' would be needed. However, if it is a personal issue, then one should not 'uninvite'. This does not invalidate, but rather support the difference between East and West mentioned here. Chinese see business and personal relationship as one whereas the West see them as separate. For the Chinese, relationship comes first before business. For the West, business usually can come first, and then friendship may  or may not be formed. They are separate issues. Business is about rational issues.

Lim Liat (c) Feb 2014