24 June 2017

What are the differences among wisdom, knowledge, and skill?

Wisdom is about discernment. Discerning the right and wrong, the truth and lies, the benefits and harms, the intentions of the heart. Then it takes boldness or gut or courage to do the right things and punish the wrongs.

Knowledge is about knowing the facts and knowing the how to. How do things work? What are the causes and effects? What are the solutions? Identifying the problems come from wisdom. Deciding the harms and benefits from the solutions of knowledge come from wisdom. Tangibles belong to knowledge intangibles needs wisdom.

What then is a skill? Wisdom relates to the heart, knowledge relates to the mind, and skill relates to the body. I know the theory of music, the keys of pianos, but to play a beautiful piece of music, I need to practice on the pianos for hours and days to have the skill to play a good song.

So what?

Well, an engineer could be a very bad technician. He may be able to design a new air-cond but can't repair one. An educated Ph.D. may be a crook or a spoiled brat. So we can understand what is happening to people behavior and most of all, always try to discern the intentions of people and their values.

Confucius' teaching, summarized in 弟子规:
弟子规 ,圣人训: 首孝弟, 次谨信 。泛爱众 ,而亲仁 。有余力。则学文.

Get wisdom first, trained the heart to honor and love, then train the brain to get knowledge and then the body to get the skills to work productively.

Now we can see the problem of our modern education system. It inverts the order, teaching knowledge and skills first, and leaving wisdom as supplementary with little time given to its teaching.

Lim Liat (c) 24 June 2017

23 May 2017

Planning and Decision Making with the Four Parts of Your Body

Every plan and every decision must be filtered through these four parts of your body so that it will be successful.
A chat with a successful entrepreneur reveals his secrets for success. It has all to do with the four parts of our body. Speaking crudely, they are the head, heart, guts(intuition) and 'balls'(boldness). Someone put it as "have the guts to go with your guts"! So, every plan and every decision must be filtered through these four parts of your body.

1. Go through the Head first.

Gui Gu Zi gives us the following advice on planning 故謀必欲周密 (plan must be both thorough and tight.

  • head/mind
    • thorough/complete 5W1H+
      • identify and consider all factors and all stakeholders
      • maximize benefits and minimize costs and risks.
      • use your past experience, historical evidence, and all points of view.
      • what if, why not, any other contingencies?
    • tight
      • rational & logical
      • collect intelligence, not just hearsays.
      • validate assumptions, decision-making models
      • critical & details
      • measure and calculate and compare
2. Filter Through the Heart - Love & Relationship & Ethics
  • Consideration for the needs, feelings, and 'face'(honor) of others.
  • Should money be the only criteria? What about social and psychological needs? Environmental impact? Societal impact?
  • Can you sleep peacefully with your decision?
3 Check Once More with Your Guts - Intuition.
  • What do your guts say? What does your intuition tell you? 
  • Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book on "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking"
4. Finally, Have the Boldness to Act
  • All the planning will result in nothing if there is no action to follow-up the decision made.
  • Often, after minimizing all the risks, do we have the boldness to take the first step out. Nothing is without risks. Nothing can be absolutely sure. 
  • Stepping out is just a 1st step, there should have been plans to monitor progress, learn from the implementation incrementally, bringing in the contingency plans when needed.
Lim Liat (c) 22 May 2017

04 May 2017

Work Hard or Work Smart to be Successful? Let Sun Zi tells you.

The Either-Or Western Mindset
The Western Mindset is a typical Either A or B, so choose one. It creates endless arguments to settle the scores.

Here is a typical example, These 2 Four-Letter Words Are the True Secret of Success. The author's argument is you need to work harder than others in the domain where there are lots of smart people.

He only knows one part of SunZi, which is to know others know self and be better than others to win.

However, he does not know Sun Zi also says, "warfare is doing the unexpected, breaking the rules, changing the business models".

Let Sun Zi shows you:
So, if you read Sun Zi, you need to know what others are doing first and then change the rule of the games, and then work hard on the new games you created before others realize them to catch up with you.

The story of Goliath vs David:
See 1 Samuel 17 - David and Goliath

Know Others then Know Self:
David knows that Goliath is much much stronger than him. Goliath is also a skillful warrior with the swords, shields, spears, the conventional close contact fight. If David is goings to fight on Goliath's terms, close contact fight, then he will surely loose. King Saul then thought that the fight was going to be close contact fight so he offered his own armor and swords. If David took Saul's advice, he would be killed. The weakest spot in Goliath's armor was the uncovered part the eyes.

Do the Unexpected - Changing the Rule of the Game and Attack the Weakest Spot
So for David to win the fight, he must change the rule of the game. He must come out with a solution that can kill Goliath at a distance before Goliath can get near to him. The answer was to use a sling and project the stone into Goliath's armor weakness spot, the eye. The rest is then history.

What About Your Business?

Who are your target customers?

In your customers' eyes,
  • who are your competitors?
  • what are their strong points?
  • what are their weaknesses?
What are the business models?
What are the business games played?
What are the rules and the common assumptions, restrictions?
What are those "we always do it these ways"?

Can you change the rules of play such that your abilities become strengths in the eyes of your customers and your competitors' strengths become irrelevant or weak?

Now, work very hard to think of them can come out with the answers.
Work very hard also to find out to realize and implement your new business offerings.

You must recall that Apple's iPod is NOT just a better mp3 player (it was not, Creative Technology Nomad are better technically in many ways then), it was a component is the game-changing world of music purchase and delivery. It is about a dollar a song on the move and not 20 songs packed in a CD that you go to a retailer to buy.

Think very hard on smart first and then work very hard to achieve the speed to the objectives. That's is the answer from Sun Zi. Hard and Smart are just Yin-Yang in the Chinese Mindset. You need both and each has a bit of the other in them.

For more on Sun Zi see Sun Zi and Other Strategists

Lim Liat (c) 4 May 2017


14 April 2017

Sustainable Success with Sun Zi's Operation and Project Managements

In Sun Zi's Art of War, he said that warfare is nothing but the use of two types of forces in endless variations against the enemy. We can apply such a concept in any business. Any business has two types of systems at work. One is the operation management to keep the existing system running and the other is the project management to do new things or to make an improvement to the operation systems. The new project that produces a new product or a service will eventually become the operation systems when the new offerings are successful with the existing operation systems replaced. The new has become the main. Then there is the good time to start a new project again. Such will keep the organization successful.
Sun Zi's Original Text
[5 兵势篇]  Chapter 5 Army Dynamic Power

凡战者,以正合,以胜。
All warfare is about using the main/direct force to meet [the enemy] and to win with the special/indirect/surprising force.

战势不过奇正,正之变,不可胜穷也。
The dynamic power from warfare is nothing but main and special (direct and indirect), the ever-changing direct and indirect is without end.

奇 in Chinese has two meanings:

  • pronounced as qí meaning strange, odd, surprising, weird, unusual
  • pronounced as jī odd (number) which implies an extra
 So, it is best to always divide an army into two types of forces, the main force and the extra or reserved force. Sun Zi tells us to use the main force to meet the enemy and the extra/reserve force to surprise and win against the enemy.

Operation Management
Operation management is about keeping the existing system working in good order. It is about doing the same thing over and over again while maintaining the quality and efficiency. The knowledge and the working of the existing system are all well defined and know by the staff running the system.

Project Management
Project management is about doing something extra. It's a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It is a new grouping of people getting together to accomplish a new thing. It tends to cut across functional divisions. It usually starts off as one off thing. But when it is successful, it will become the new operational system. Consider any new innovation. Either a dedicated team from the R&D or transferring people from the various existing functional divisions to form the new team. Once the innovation is successful, it will be scaled up and adopted as the new operation system, replacing the existing one. The new has become the main.

Operation and Project Management Interchange without end
The key to sustainable success is then to start a new project and then make the success new project into the operation to make it repeatable and scalable. It is always about making the strange familiar, operationalising a new thing, and then making the familiar strange, by starting a new project. Interchange of operation and project will keep the organization in a healthy state always.

Lim Liat (c) 14 April 2017

11 April 2017

The Attitudes & Principles from the Art of War for Successful Projects Always - A Mini-skirt Presentation

This is a summary of the above talk given to the Project Managers Chapter of Singapore Computer Society on 29 March 2017. It serves as a good precise introduction to Sun Zi's Art of War and how to use it in our work and life.
I have tried often to write a concise yet comprehensive paper on Sun Zi's Art of War. It must be like a mini-shirt, short enough to be attractive and yet long enough to cover the essentials. I think this talk can be qualified as a mini-skirt presentation on Sun Zi's Art of War.

Sun Zi's Art of War is the globally recognized as the best bible for winning. But its wisdom is applicable to accomplishing projects successfully with maximized benefits and minimized costs and risks.  It teaches us the right attitudes and the right principles for such endeavors.

The Winners’ Attitudes
  • Kiasuism
    • Foresee and manage threats first and then exploit the opportunities
    • Always go for Maximized Net-Returns at Minimized Risks
  • Be cool, calm and objective – The Essence of Project Management
    • Calculation & Evidence-based decision making. 计划,计算
    • Collect intelligence and information to find out the hidden intentions and agendas besides the observable facts.
  • The bad attitudes to avoid
    • Never be proud, but be humble and prudent to examine all factors objectively.
    • Never go for fortune telling, but by the evidence and reasoning.
    • Never hope for the best nor be too optimistic, but by calculation and logical deduction only.
    • Never do it for the glory, but choose to do those that you can succeed easily.
    • Never go for revenge or for the wrong reasons.
    • Never be easily angered, which leads to irrationality and failure.
    • Never be tricked nor be tempted by the benefits, desires, disguises, hearsays, distraction etc. Watch out for scope creeps a little by little due to the above wrong attitudes.
The Winning Principles: The 5 C's of Strategies & 5 M's of Leadership
  • C1 Calculate, Measures & Compare:
    • Know the factors of Philosophies (Mission, Visions, and Values), Seasonal Trends, Terrains Advantages, Leadership, and Methods.
    • Measure to validate the strengths of such factors.
    • Compare against the competitors in the eyes of the customers to know whether you can win or not.
  • C2 Complete - Make sure all factors, benefits, and harms are considered.
    • Foresee the threats and overcome them first before exploiting the opportunities.
  • C3 Compounding - Create and Ride the Waves.
    • Try to achieve 天时地利人和 the right time at the right place and the support of the people with the right methods and objectives.
    • Productivity comes from riding the trends of the seasons, positional advantages and peoples' desires.
  • C4 Creativity and Innovations.
    • See the opportunities in threats and the threats in opportunities to convert harms to benefits.
    • Do the unexpected to out-smart the competitors and delight the customers.
    • Understand the strengths and weaknesses, the truth and false, in the situations. By passing the strongholds and go through the gaps.
  • C5 Change - Follow-up the successful innovations with more innovations.
    • Always innovate without end and do the unexpected. There are sixteen stratagems to learn from.
  • M1 Management & Leadership
    • 5 Leadership Attributes areWisdom,     Trust,   Love,   Boldness, Strict Discipline and they are to be held in balanced.
  • M2 Morale - Maintain high morale, the energy, and vitality of the people.
  • M3 Mollification - Calmness to weather the storms and overcome the challenges.
  • M4 Magnification - Productivity from riding the waves of the trends and the power of the group.
  • M5 Movement - Never stay still, the people must learn without end in a learning organization.
A case study based on Breadtalk strategies using the common SWOT analysis is compared with Sun Zi's TOWS analysis. It shows the effectiveness and power of the TOWS approach.  The General Principle is to know to plan first, be agile in execution, and do better than others. Take the Outside-In, Situational dependent threats before opportunities approach. The best summary is given by George Yeo's comments on Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's understanding of Sun Zi's Art of War.

Every war is a large and complex project. Sun Zi's victories show that he is indeed one of the best project managers from whom we can learn much from.

Lim Liat (c) 29 March 2017



How to Manage Large Organization according to Sun Zi's Art of War

How to manage a large project or a large organization, or even a large church?

The answer also provides the explanation for a small organization that cannot grow big, i.e. how to scale up?

Divide and conquer is the typical suggestion. Break a large project into smaller manageable sub-projects.

That is half of the answer.

Do you want to know the full answer?

That is found in Sun Zi's Chapter 5 [兵势篇] 孙子曰:凡治众如治寡,分数是也;斗众如斗寡,形名是也;

Sun Zi said, "Managing many is like managing little, divide and count. Fighting many is like fighting little, shapes and naming.

Part 1 is well understood by all. Divide into small enough size to be manageable.

Part 2 is the key but often forgotten part. It is about communications. There must be a common language, of symbols and naming, and common vocabulary, to prevent misunderstanding, to gain agreement for effective co-ordination.

That is also the key design principle for multi-processors CPU. There can be many processors, common and specialized ones, but they must know how to communicate, coordinate, with the dividing and assignment of tasks, signaling of completion etc.

In any organization, besides the division of functions, there must also be the common vocabulary to link them together. That is found in your mission, visions, values, policies etc, now commonly known as the culture.

Do your managers and staff think alike? Do they have a common language? Please think about it and you can find the answers to build a better engaged and successful organization. The organization can act as one person as in 

7 军争篇《军政》曰:“言不相闻,故为之金鼓;视不相见,故为之旌旗。” 夫金鼓旌旗者,所以一人之耳目也。人既专一,则勇者不得独进,怯者不得独退,此用众之法也。
Chapter 7 Competing: Could not hear others speaking and hence use drums and gongs. Could not see one another and hence use the flags and banners. The gongs, drums, flags and banners are to unite the ears and eyes to that of one person. As the group acts as one, then the braves do not advance alone and neither the cowards withdraw alone. This is the way to manage a many.

Lim Liat (c) 8 Apr 2017

30 March 2017

"Following the best practices is not good enough" said Sun Zi

Many consultants will tell you to follow your industry best practices. But Sun Zi said that kind of strategy is not good enough. You cannot win that way. You are just playing catch up.
The Quotes:

[04.06] 见胜不过众人之所知,非善之善者也.
If your strategy to win is known by many people, then that is not the best of the very best.
[04.07] 战胜而天下曰善,非善之善者也。
After you have won and the world says it was great, then it was still not the best of the very best.
[04.08] 故举秋毫不为多力,见日月不为明目,闻雷霆不为聪耳。
Because lifting a feather does not show you have strength;
seeing the sun and the moon does not mean you have clear and sharp eyesights;
hearing the thunder does not mean you have sensitive hearing.

Why best practices are not good enough?
Because they are already known by many people. They do not create surprises. Warfare, according to Sun Zi, is about doing the unexpected to surprise and outsmart the competitors. Following the best practices is just catching up with the competitors. They are minimum requirements but not good enough to outdo the competitors. You need to do more than just best practices. Sun Zi's Art of War is teaching us to change the rules of the game and not just follow the rules to win. In the past, Dell go direct and bypass all the intermediaries to quick become the number one PC maker. Apple created the iPod that changed the ways songs are purchased and distributed. iPhone, the iTouch with an added telecom SIM chip brings the internet to your fingertips and dethrone the Nokia and Motorola who did not even known what happened their once lucrative phone business. Be watchful of the changes in the environments and be not kicked out by a new upstart or a transformed giant.

Often, the best practices that work for them, are not likely to work for you, because they all have to be run by people within your company culture. Your company culture, the 道 Dao of your company, the thing that unites the bottom and top of all the people of the company such that they are willing, against all dangers, to live and die for, is different from them. Sun Zu puts Dao the number One factor of five factors for computing the likelihood of winning against competitors. The western management world has finally realized that the company culture is the important determinant for winning. In the past, it was about product and services, and then about business model innovations, and now it is all about the competition of company culture. They are just supporting what the Ancient Chinese has known two thousand and five hundred ago.

If you want to know what the future will be, what to know are to compete in this multi-diversities globalized world, especially to compete with the rising and great Chinese companies, you really need to go back to study Ancient Chinese Wisdom.

ZhangRuiMin, Chairman, and CEO of Haier, the world number white goods manufacturer said, "Business is about philosophies.... I studied 3 bibles, the Analects, DaoDeJing and Sun Zi's Art of War".

So, read up the posts that I have specially written about Ancient Chinese Wisdom for you:

Lim Liat (c) 30 March 2017


22 February 2017

Application of the Art of War in Jack Ma's "How to grow in bad time?"

In 2016 Zhejiang Businessmen Conference, Jack Ma gave a speech on "How to grow your business in a challenging time?". You will find many concepts taught by Sun Zi's Art of War in his speech. Here is his speech mind-mapped from the Art of War perspective. You can learn about the application of the Art of War by a very successful master.
The Mind-Map of the Art of War Oriented Speech:



Jack Ma put forward 13 key points in his speech. I re-organized them according to Sun Zi's Five factors.

The Key Lessons:

  1. Transform to Stay Relevant:
    The most important concept is that any business must be constantly transforming itself to stay relevant to the market.  This echoed Peter Drucker's quote "Business failed because their theory of business does not match reality". The main teaching of the Art of War is 审时度势 - Read the Time & Trends and then response rightly.  
  2. Develop Inner Core Strengths:
    Jack Ma said the inner strengths are about organization, talents, and culture. These are exactly the 法 method, 将 commanders/leadership, and 道 dao philosophy. The order is opposite of Sun Zi. But Jack Ma in other speeches said that Culture is key. So we see Jack did not have the order in mind. Sun Zi said that "Dao 道 is the thing that unites everyone from top to bottom to act together and they are not afraid to die and to live together. It is the mission, vision, and values of a business. It is the culture of the business. 
  3. Leadership - Entrepreneurs vs Professional Manager
    Jack Ma used a hunting story to show the difference. An entrepreneur and a manager went hunting. They fired at a wild-boar. They missed. The manager would run away. But the entrepreneur will bring out his knife to go after the wild-boar! When times turn bad, managers live first. Entrepreneurs will find ways to turn the business around. You can find the other leadership attributes highlighted by Sun Zi in Jack's speech as shown on the map.
  4. Good News or Bad News? It all depend on You!
    If the economists forecast is bad, it may seem like bad news. But the good news is that it applies to everyone, including your competitors. Hence, another key principle of Sun Zi is about conversion. Choose the right combination of time, situations, people, methods such that you see the opportunities in the bad news, where also you convert the harms to benefits so that you can be successful while others fail. Similarly,  when things are going well, you need the potential dangers, the current wastes, the possible redundancies in the future and take action now.
  5. TOWS, not SWOT.
    The Art of War is about cool and calm evidence base decision making based on facts and calculations. Warfare cannot be left to chance or by prayers. Threats must be addressed before opportunities. Jack Ma advised this in point 5 above.
Your Turns:
What are lessons can you pick up from Jack's speech. What one or two things that impressed you that you may want to take action now to benefit your business?

Lim Liat (c) 22 Feb 2017

For more on Sun Zi, see Sun Zi and Other Strategists

25 January 2017

More than Just a New Year Wish

The most common greeting for the Chinese New Year is GongXiFaCai 恭喜发财 which means “Congratulations and may you be prosperous!". It is just a good wish. But you can go further to make the wish comes true. That is when you know the way to prosperity.

Since it is Chinese New Year time, I shall share the wisdom of Ancient Chinese, and more specifically the Sun Zi's Art of War.  Sun Zi's Art of War is more than teaching you about how to win every time. It is all about getting the maximum net profits and at the same time minimize the risks. It teaches us to always to observe carefully, collect information, and only make decisions based on evidence and not by chance, luck or even prayer. It is also about finding out all the potential risks and pitfalls. It is a situation based, outside-in, threats before opportunities kind of thinking. It is in the opposite order of the SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats) analysis. So, it can be called TOWS, Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses and Opportunities. Because if we cannot overcome the threats, there are no opportunities for us to enjoy. 

For for this Chinese New Year, I wish a happy and prosperous New Year by doing TOWS and not SWOT for you to make wise decisions that bring in the prosperity.

For more on Sun Zi's Art of War, see Strength alone has no meaning - Reorder Your SWOT

Lim Liat (c) 25 Jan 2017