06 October 2015

Better than Jack Welch - Frank Blake's Home Depot Transformation

Are you a fan of Jack Welch ? Many of us are.

In the 90s and early 2000s, bosses are singing praises of Jack Welch management gospels and trying to mimic his style to gain better performance and higher stock value.

What was lacking, and we were blind to that, being of one track western mindset, is that his six-signma, 4E1P, performance driven and fear driven perform or get fired, top-down, autocratic style management, only works for certain situations. We need to go back to Chinese Mindset such as of Sun Zi, to understand the situation first and then apply the right tools for the right jobs.

Here is an article, as early as 2003, that was pointing out the errors of his disciples. Jack Welch's disciples have gone forth to preach his gospel. So far, most of them are failing.

Now at 2015, we have a longer history of evaluating the disciples performance. They are only good for short-term performances at some instances only, but failed badly in the long-term.

Consider Nardelli's tensure at Home-Depot. He did well at the beginning but was bad in the longer run and was replaced by Frank Blake (Nardelli's Deputy) who go back to the basics of serving associates(employees) to serve customers with the inverted pyramid management style. If you do a search on Frank Blake and Home Depot, you can find many stories about how Blake turnaround the company using his Inverted Pyramind management style. A great one showing him how he handled the Home Depot hacked incidence is in How Home Depot CEO Frank Blake kept his legacy from being hacked. A good case study on Home Depot is here.

Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast recently has an interview with Frank Blade that talked about the inverted pyramid can be found here or here for a complete list.

Here is my mind-map summary of the conversation key points:

It seems that 6-sigma, KPIs number chasing and cost-cutting system may help improve the short term performance but may, if not careful, destroy the original culture and the people who make the company successful in the first place. Management by KPIs and fear can only achieve short term success at the expense of long term growth and sustainability. They seems unable to innovate to create greater growth. It reflects EW Deming's words, "Zero Defect does not guarantee jobs". In this article, "Who Killed Nokia? Nokia Did", the author concluded that the root reason was fear.

However, don't go to the other extreme to say that 6Sigma or TQM or KPIs are no good. No, they are needed. However, they are not enough. You need both, the right values, culture and the methods to create a lasting and successfully company.

Go for Mission, Vision and Values based culture first and then have simplified performance management systems, not just for rewards and incentives, but more importantly, for learning and improvements. 

One more thing. Keeping employees happy is not the goal. Keeping employees happy in serving the customers to accomplish the vision of the company is the goal of any business. The order is happy employees leads to happy customers and to happy owners.

If you want the whole summary in one phrase, it will be "staff before systems" or "love is more powerful than fear".

Lim Liat (c) 6 October 2015

22 September 2015

Nine Keys to Management Excellence - Gui Gu Zi's Chapter 12 Addendum

What is management? What makes good management? Management is about doing things rightly, getting things under control and making sure there is no surprises. Any surprises is an indication of something is beyond the control of management. If the management forecast a 10% growth in sales, and the actual growth is 30%, is a good surprise. But it also shows the failure of management. There is much more to telling the manager to be wise and loving. Gui Gu Zi Chapter 12 Addendum gives us nine keys, and show us the ways, to better management.
Here is the mind-map that show the nine keys with additional explanation:
1 Position 位- Secured, Steady, Upright & Calm

Know your job (position) well. Be secured and make changes steadily. Be upright and fair in the way you treat people and make decisions. Always remain calm in face of any disruptions.  The original Chinese text and the translation are given below.

    + 安徐正静,
    Secured, Steady-change, Upright and Calm.
    + 其被节先肉。
    Treat others with love and self-control and it will bring abundance.
    + 善与而不静,虚心平意以待倾损。
    Be good at giving and networking. If unrest happen, be ever ready to deal with that disruption or loss with humility, fairness & calmness.

2 Brightness 明- Information flows to you.
How can one be wise? The best way is to make sure you have all the information, then you will not be swayed by biased and partial information. So, make use of all the eyes, ears and heart (judgment of intents) of the staff and technology that you have. Let the information flow to you automatically.
Here are the original text:

    + 目贵明,耳贵聪,心贵智。
    Eyes are to see brightly/sharply. Ears are to hear clearly.
    Heart is to know wisely. (understanding the intentions and love)
    + 以天下之目视者,则无不见;
    Using the eyes of everyone, then nothing cannot be seen.
    + 以天下之耳听者,则无不闻;
    Using the ears of everyone, then nothing could not be heard.
    + 以天下之心思虑者,则无不知;
    Using the heart of everyone to think, then nothing could not be known.
    + 辐辏并进,则明不可塞。
    All the information flow to the center like the spokes of a wheel, then discernment cannot be blocked.

3 Gaining 德 Advices
How do you motivate people to willingly come forward to offer you information and advices? It is by accepting and implementing the their suggestions or advices. However, you must be discerning to know what are good and what are bad advices. Don't just reject or accept but evaluate calmly & objectively.

    + 德之术曰:勿坚而拒之,许之则防守,拒之则闭塞。
    Don't insist on rejecting it. If accept it then defend it.
    Rejection results in no suggestions but isolation.

    + 高山仰之可极,深渊度之可测,神明之德术正静,其莫之极。
    The top of high mountain can be seen.
    The depth of deep water can be measured.
    The wisdom of the gods are righteousness and calmness where there are no limits.

4 Rewards 赏 with Integrity
Promote trustworthiness by keeping promises of rewards & punishing fairly. In addition, if you have built your reputation (see 9th Key below too) of integrity and fairness, then you will not be afraid of slandering by others. Much office politics can be avoided.

    + 用赏贵信,用刑贵正。
    Rewards must be trustworthy.     Punishment must be fair
    + 赏赐贵信,必验而目之所闻见,其所不闻见者,莫不谙化矣。
    The giving of rewards are trustingly fulfilled. Let such testimonies be seen and heard. So that those who have not the first hand experience will be influenced too
    + 诚畅于天下神明,而况奸者干君。
    Let your integrity be known throughout the world.
    Then you will not be afraid of slandering by evil people to the king.

5 Seeking 问 to gain Understanding
To gain understanding of anything, one must be willing to ask and to do a thorough job of investigation. Here are the factors to gain comprehensive understandings:  Seasons, Position, People, Direction, Super&Sub-system, Future & Past, Surrounding. cf 5W1H, TRIZ 9-windows

    + 一曰天之,二曰地之,三曰人之;
    Consider the seasonal timing (When),
    the terrain/positional advantages(Where),
    the harmony of the people(Who,Whom),
    + 四方上下,左右前后,荧惑之处安在。
    the direction of north,south,east,west, up and down(super system and sub-systems),
    left & right(surrounding, less & more important), front & back(past & future), where are the problems and doubts that we not comfortable with?

6 Right Principles 因- Find Root Cause & Institutionalize them.
Evaluate and then Rewards the good and punishes the evil.

    + 心为九穷之治,君为五官之长。
    Heart is the root of healing for the body.
    King is the ruler of all the ministers. (Find the root causes & the Indian Chief)
    + 为善者,君与之赏;为非者,君与之罚。
    Those who do good, the king rewards them.
    Those who do evil, the king punishes them.
    + 君因其所以求,因与之,则不劳。
    The king deals with them according to their needs and performance.
    Following such a principle will not be tiring(efficient & effective).
    + 圣人用之,故能赏之。因之循理,故能长久。
    The sages use it and hence can appreciate it.
    Because it is reasonable/rational, hence it can last long.

7 Thorough 周 & Connected to the outside world
Be thorough and opened to manage well with understanding.

    + 人主不可不周;人主不周,则群臣生乱,家于其无常也,
    The leader of people must have prudence and thoroughness. If he is not thorough and careful, then there will be chaos/confusion among his officers and put the house in disorder.
    The in and out are not connected (isolation), then who can know what are happening. Open and close are not done properly(the analysis is bad) and the root cause cannot be know.

8 Honor 恭 Observation - Investigate & root out evil
Observe and detect the hidden evil. Train your eyes, ears & discernment.

    + 一曰长目,二曰飞耳,三曰树明。
    First is telescopic and microscopic eyesight.
    Second is powerful hearing to hear any minute noises.
    Third is clarity and discerning wisdom.

    Able to see thousands of miles away, every little hidden things, is called identifying all the evils. Then no changes in the dark cannot be known.

9 Reputation 名 of Uprightness - Protect your Brands
Reputation comes from your actions, not empty talks.

    + 循名而为贵,安而完,名实相生,反相为情,故曰名当则生于实,
    Following your reputation/brand/name is important. It brings stability and completeness. Name and the reality mutually support give rise to each other and mutually tied up in close relationship. Hence, right reputation comes from real commensurate actions.
    + 实 生于理,理生于名实之德,德生于和,和生于当。
    Reality comes from reasoning. Reasoning come from the the virtue of real reputation. Reputation comes from harmony. Harmony comes from the being just right (right fit).

In this fast changing VUCAD (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous, Deceptive) world,  the greatest danger is to listen to the wrong people (those villain that want to sabotage us) and getting the wrong information. Not only we must know our job well, we must be humble and open to use technology and to motivate people to willingly give us the information and suggestions. We must build up our reputation for humilty, uprightness, fairness, trustworthiness to overcome the slanderings and get true feedbacks. We must be thorough in our investigations, objective and calm in the midst of disruptions, and then we can decide wisely to make the right decisions. We will not be easily caught surprises again.

Lim Liat (c) 22 Sep 2015

Previous:Wise Decision Making with Gui Gu Zi Chapter 11
First: The Original Spin Doctor - Gui Gu Zi on Open & Close

More On Strategy: V Sun Zi and Other Strategists(Gui Gu Zi)
More on Chinese Wisdom: Ancient Chinese Wisdom

12 September 2015

Conclusions from the Results of Singapore's GE2015

The result of the recently completed Singapore General Election 2015 shocked many people, especially the oppositions who had seen great attendances at their rallies and waves of support in the social media. The ruling PAP's popular votes went up from 60% in 2011 to 70% in 2015. They even won back a lost seat in Ponggol East and narrowed the gap to less than 1% against the opposition A-team in Aljunied GRC with their rookies.  What can we learned from such a shocking election? Here are my conclusions.
Conclusions from the Results of GE2015

1. Statistics is a powerful tools - Use it. 
This method have been used in past elections. But this time, the Election Department make it publicly available. The final results did not differ much from the sample results. You can actually go to sleep earlier as the predicted election result (the winners and losers, the % differ by less than 2%) matched the final result.

2. The winning formula is "Let the feet do the talking".
Those who spent more time, not just 9 days, but years, in connecting and serving the people win. e.g. TPL, Sitoh etc. Those who spend about a year or less, can gain some additioinal support, but not overcome the strong holds of the opposition eg. hougang, Aljunied.

The PAP went back to their root of connecting and working with the people whereas WP adopted the past PAP way. That was given by a commentator in Channel News Asia.

3. Other Contributing Factors:
such as Appreciation of LKY, SG50, Pioneer Generation Package, etc may help but I think the key is still point 2 spend years in doing the walking and not just talking.

4. What is the job of an MP?
The job of an MP is not just respresenting the people. That is too vague. It is connecting and serving the people in the short term and more importantly drawing up laws and policies that better the lives for the people in the future. The help that mp can give his residents in the short term can often be hindered by the policies. With better laws and policies that bring in the jobs, increasing the standards of living, the wealth to care for the needy etc, there may be less needs from the residents. This is what a Korean serial drama, "The Assembly Man", said. The job of an MP is to legistrate the right laws and policies for the people.

5. It is NOT over yet. It is the Start!
The election is not over. It is but the start. For the winners, they have to deliver their promises and gain the trust that the people have given them. For the losers, it is the starting point to lay the work for winning back.

6. The Check & Balance.
The check and balance for the ruling party is not just the existence of opposition parties. It is also through participating and giving feedback in all possibe ways .. in community work, volunteering services and even through social media tc.

And there is one more to come, the election of President, who holds the key to the national reserves and can say No. Some have already been laying the foundation work for such an election.

Finally, to all the winners, show the people that you truly deserve the people's trust. There are actually no losers but learners who will learn, work and to come back stronger to the challenge.

Lim Liat (c) 12 Sep 2015

03 September 2015

A Leader Holds Things in Balance and Reject Not - DaoDeJing 28

Effective and powerful leadership does not only do one thing extremely well. Rather, it holds opposite demands in balance and increase the pie for the sharing. Lao Zi uses analogies of rivers and valleys to highlight the attributes of great leaders. There are 6 attributes we can learn from Loa Zi.
Time really flies. I checked up where I left off in translating Lao Zi's Dao De Jing for this blog readers. It was July 2014 and now it is Sep 2015. Slightly more than a year has passed since I felt like taking a short break from the translation to have fresh and better ideas. Now I'm back to continue the work. Here is on DaoDeJing Chapter 28.

The mind-map gives the details:
The Six Lessons for Effective Leadership:

  1. Be creative and also nurturing - innovate and refine - start and sustain
  2. Know what to show and what to hide/silence (the white and the black) and when too.
  3. Know the glory and the shame. Seek glory without commiting shameful acts.
  4. Be inclusive, take in all the diversity and put them to good use, be balance.
    Synergy is not white and black becoming grey. It is white and black keeping their color but rather co-ordinating and complementing each other to form patterns giving beauty and meaning. eg. the writings of black ink on white paper.
  5. Be like rivers and valleys the consolidate the diverisity leading to abundance
  6. Be authentic, be sincere. keep moral virtues.

Lim Liat (c) 3 Sep 2015

27 August 2015

A Better Job in Iraq if US Knows Sun Zi Art of War Rightly

According to Sun Zi, winning a war is just the start of rebuilding and gaining over the people. Planning for war is not just about how to win but also about how to takeover and rebuild after the occupation.
A typical misunderstanding on Sun Zi's Art of War is that it is about winning wars. But real scholar of Sun Zi will know that Art of War is about maximizing net-returns with minimum risks. Best strategy is not winning all the wars all the time but rather winning without even starting a war! War is the last resort when there is no choice. There are many ways besides war to resolve conflicts, such as by strategic development of one power, by foreign affairs of negotiations, economics and other social means. However, it one have too, Sun Zi's advice is to plan and calculate such that we can be sure of winning before we start it.  Winners plan to win first before starting it. Losers start a war and then try and hope to win it. By further extension, winning is not the final outcome of war. Winning is just a means to enlarge and increase one's original objective of maximizing net gains at minimum risks. There are much rebuilding after one has won and taken over the city or the country. This is what Sun Zi said in Chapter 12 Attack by Fire:


It is not surprising that the US Generals did not understand Sun Zi's Art of War well. It is because the English translations did not translate the above correctly. Let's look at some of the translation. The authoritative one is by  By LIONEL GILES and it available here .

12v15. Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his
    battles and succeed in his attacks without cultivating
    the spirit of enterprise; for the result is waste of time
    and general stagnation.
16. Hence the saying:  The enlightened ruler lays his
    plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.

What to you mean by "without cultivating the spirit of enterprise"? Most people could not really understand it. How does one cultivate the spirit of enterprise after a city is destroyed in war?

So, other translators, such as "The Art of War in plain English By Sun Tzu" edited by A. N. Pearce change it to:
  • 12/10 Unhappy is the fate of one who tries to win his battles and succeed in his attacks without rewarding good deeds; for the result is waste of time and general stagnation.
  • 12/11 Hence the saying: The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.
The "cultivate" 修 has been changed to "rewarding" 赏 the deeds 功.

The newer SonShi translation is:
  • [12.07] If one gains victory in battle and is successful in attacks, but does not exploit those achievements, it is disastrous. This is called waste and delay. 
  • [12.08] Therefore, I say the wise general thinks about it, and the good general executes it.
Here, "exploit" is used. This meaning is closer to "cultivate" but it has a bad connotation of plundering the defeated nation and people. Cultivate is in fact a better word. The word 修 has the following meaning of repair, build, decorate, mend, trim. Development of character is 修养 and hence Cultivate is a good word to use.

My Translation:
After winning and taking over, if it is not followed by rebuilding on the achievements will lead to disaster. The eventual outcome, the destiny,  is called "waste and leakage of wealth".
Hence, the wise rule will consider it and the smart general will rebuild it.

Hence, victory is the end of a war but the start of a rebuilding phase.

What are there to rebuild?
Besides rebuilding the ruins caused by the war, a major effort is to take care of the defeated people. It is all about how to gain the support of them and how to provide peace, security and development for them. If not, the people will continue the war with sabotages and other rebellion activities and the war will continue requiring the conquering nation to continue to station their soldiers there to maintain order and peace. 

So, we can see that true long term victory is not just about winning a war but what to do to maintain peace and development for the people and the ruins after the war in won.

Hence, we can see that in Iraq, perhaps the US has underestimated the needs and difficulty for rebuilding the nation after the war. US has done well in WWII in helping to rebuild Japan and Germany that they became good allies for the US. Such experience point to the wisdom of Sun Zi's Art of War.

Lim Liat (c) 27 July 2015

01 August 2015

Western and Chinese People Management - The Trend and Problems from the Names

The change of names for the Personnel Department over time shows us the trend and the problems as well. The trend shows that Western management thinking is moving towards Ancient Chinese Philosophies and the names show that treating people as resources to be used up in producing products and the bosses' objectives are the fundamental people problems in organization. The Ancient Chinese Philosophies provide the right values and guidance for resolving the people issues.

Looking up Human resource management - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia shows us that the Personnel Department arised out of the management and labor disputes and was called industrial relations. The oldest known professional HR associations—the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development go through the following names changes:
  1. Welfare Workers' Association,
  2. Institute of Industrial Welfare Workers
  3. Institute of Labour Management 
  4. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
The name and scope of work for the People Department can be roughly stated as:
  1. Personnel Admin --- welfare and benfits, hiring
  2. Human Resource Management --- add training and development, incentives, etc.
  3. Human Capital Management --- add strategies, talents, succession, diverisity and inclusivity.
The Trend

Seeing people as a resource like any other raw materials input to be used up in the production to seeing people as an asset, or a capital that can appreciate with investment. This trend treats people more like people with potential to be better, is closer to the Ancient Chinese Philosophies of the relation between the king and his officers. More on this Chinese philosophies later.

The Problem

The people problems in an organization is to treat people as resource to be used up in production of products and services and to satisfy the boss' objective. Used and discard is the problem. Who want to be treated that way? Seeing people as capital is better but it is still a thing. Can people be treated as people? Not treating people as people creates misunderstanding and improper ways to relate, motivate and handling of people, resulting in lack of performance, engagements, turnovers and even sabotages.

The Ancient Chinese Philosophies on Boss-Staff Relationship:

The mind-map above shows the relationship between bosses and their staff and the roles of bosses and staff. It is more like parent-child and teacher-student. Bosses show love and staff response with respect (giving excellent work as an example respect). 

If the relationship is wrong, the consequences are obvious. Mencius said it some 2300 years ago as:


Mencius said, "If the ruler treats his officers as his own hands and legs, then the officers will treat their ruler as their own heart and stomach. If the ruler treats them as dogs and horses (sound familiar? as resources to be used up or even abused in production), then the officers will treat their ruler as stranger (ie no obligation to do extra, just the very bare minimum). If the ruler treats them as dirts and grass, then the officers will see their ruler as thief and enemy (i.e. sabotage is possible).

Reflection and Lessons:

How are you treating your staff and colleagues?
Are you a good boss that acts as parents and teachers to their staff with love and discipline?
Are you a good staff that give of your very best in the work that you do inspite of what and how your boss treats you?

Lim Liat (c) 1 Aug 2015

15 July 2015

Wise Decision Making with Gui Gu Zi Chapter 11

In school, when we learn about decision making, we spent more time on the mathematics of calculation. We draw decision trees, include probabilities, compute benefits and costs, do cost-benefit analysis etc to arrive at selecting the best alternative. However, with Ancient Chinese Wisdom, like Gui Gu Zi, we take wider views of things. We are to cast doubts, questions the assumptions, reasonings, computations of benefits, to look into harms and not just the costs, to include the multiple parties involved and the impacts on them and ..... Dig in to find out. It will surely help you to make a better decision next time.

The Essence of Gui Gu Zi's Decision Making

The Original Text and My English Translations:

Previous: Chapter 10 Strategizing and Problem Solving with the Wisdom of Gui GuZi Chapter 10 Stratagem
Next: Chapter 12 Nine Keys to Management Excellence - Gui Gu Zi's Chapter 12 Addendum

Lim Liat (c) 15 Jul 2015

10 July 2015

Strategizing and Problem Solving with the Wisdom of Gui GuZi Chapter 10 Stratagem

Modern problem solving methods such as Six-Sigma MAIC, or Quality Control PDSA or Fishbone chart, etc may have the details, but they generally lack the coverage of the Ancient Chinese Philosophies. Here is a complete guide to strategizing and problem solving from design to creating lasting change is given in Chapter 10 Stratagem of the book written by Gui Gu Zi. A series of Mind-Maps is shown here for your ease of understanding and application.
Some background and previous chapters of Gui Gu Zi the book can be found in The Original Spin Doctor - Gui Gu Zi on Open & CloseThe Persuasive Dialogues for Being the Best Lawyer..Gui Gu Zi 2Progress Comes from Getting Your Proposals Adopted - Gui Gu Zi C3 Shows Us HowDetect & Fix It Before It Cracks Up by Gui Gu Zi C4 Overcoming CrackBait first and then Catch is the Better Way says Gui Gu Zi C5.

As I was very busy wirh the writing and teaching of Sun Zi's Art of War, I thought it is beneficial to look up a chapter on strategy in the Book of Gui Gu Zi. That is Chapter 10 Stratagem. Below is a series of mind maps that explain it.

The 8 Key Steps for Strategy or Problem Solving
The 8 keys give a comprehensive coverage of the issues to be addressed as you strategize and present your proposal for adoption. Besides addressing the issues, understanding and assignment of people, human factors, the general guide is to follow principles centered and moral values to have long lasting solutions.

1 How to Strategize - From Planning to Execution

2 The Progress of Problem Solving
Some problems happen and trigger the whole process to find the solutions to fix the problem, and at its best, fix it permanently. It is best to design and build a system to fix it. Get it institutionalize so that it needs not depend on the consistency of people. Get it internalized in the people so that they practice it automatically without conscious effort!

3 Synergize: Six Personalities & Their Assignments
People are different and they come without different capabilities and attributes. The wise leader understand the personalities of his men and assign them the jobs that best suit their abilities. 

4 Getting Support - Key Issues
Any proposed solution needs to get the buy-in and support from the various stakeholders. Here is a big list of issues that need to be addressed so get your buy-in needed to ensure success.

5 Getting Support - Human Factors
Engineers tend to be too logical and rational. But it is the people that give their approval, support, and doing the work. Hence, human factors, the social & psychological perspectives must be addressed too.

6 Power over Others
To get things done, you need the authority and the power. The best power is willingness of the people involved. Be sure you touch their hearts that they can support you even at their own risks. Initial motivation is stronger than external forces. See Point 5 on such factors again.

7 Wise vs Fool - Open or Hidden
The best change management you can do is to do it without People awareness! The least number of people that need to be involved and to known is best. Those that need to be involved should be tidely linked up. Those that are not involved but are affected by the change, it is best to keep the change hidden from them. Things just get better without they knowing about them. They would not feel any stress or fear for the change that you made. 

8 Long term Partnership
If you want to have your proposed solution adopted and last over time, then you need to follow the unchanging principles and values such as righteousness and fairness. Knowledge and things changes, but good values like love, righteousness, good manners, integrity, fairness, change not with time nor with people. Stick to such values. Make the change last by sticking to the Way of Nature and make it automatic or natural with people.

Hope the above help you in your strategizing or finding solutions to fix the problems that you encounter. Let us know of your success formulas as well.

Lim Liat (c) 10 July 2015

See also: Wise Decision Making with Gui Gu Zi Chapter 11

17 June 2015

A Better Understanding of Learning from Failures

Learning from failures is much more than just do not repeat them. Here are two suggestions to maximize your learning from failures. Don't just learn the negative lessons but turn them into positive ones too. So many valuable inventions came from the so called 'Accidental Discoveries' . Here is the secret ....
What does learning from failures mean?

A typical answer is 'learning the ways that won't work' and hence don't repeat the same mistake again. There is this famous quote by Thomas Edison, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."  It sounds great but it does not bring you any closer to the solution. You just found out that it was just a dead-end. How many more failures will you need before you can find the answer? There is no answer. It could be as close as another attempt, or it could be as far as another 10,000 ways that still won't work. There are many quotes that tell you not to give up because you be just one or two steps away from the breakthrough. But those quotes are just optimistic thinking for encouragement and have no other factual basis.

I have two suggestions for learning from failure. One is to start with a model. Another, may be a more fruitful way is to find better use from the result of the failure.

Start with Model - Experiments must be Designed first.
We must have a model of how things work so that we can validate the models with our experiments. We must design the experiments such that we can maximize the value learned from the result of the experiments. Go for the minimum number of experiments needed, and hence the costs and time, to find out the maximum information needed. As we do the tests, the test result help us to modify our understanding and the working of our initial model. We incrementally change our model to fit the data and lead us to design other experiments to extract maximum value.  We may not find the answer or optimum solution yet, but we are maximizing our learning value from our failures.

Find Uses for the Failed Experiments- The Post-It Note Story
Our failure is defined by our initial objective. Because the result did achieve our intended objective, it was a failure. So, if we neglect our intended objective, our experiment is not failure at all. It is just a factual outcome of doing something in some specific situations with specific inputs. So, if we change the question to what useful things we can make use of the result we have obtained, there is no longer a failure but a starting point of a useful search. The Post-it note  was the outcome of a failure to produce the super-glue. Instead of a super-glue, it was a very weak but lasting glue. A big failure in terms of the intended objective. However, if we just make you of property of the outcome, 'weak lasting glue', it became the Post-It Notes that we are all so familiar with. In fact, such use as a book mark, was an accidental discovery too.

So, in my Creative and Innovation Classes, I teach the students that,

"There is no such thing as a useless idea.
You just need to find the job in a particular situation that can have use of it".

The focus is change from rejecting the ideas to finding the uses for the ideas. The particular situation, for a particular person, with a particular need, for it.

Putting it in Actions
Can you go back to the projects, products, programs, etc that you thought were failures. Find out the particular unique attributes and properties of the products or projects. Think of how you can find new uses, in terms of situations(day or night, dry or wet, safe or danger, ...) and persons (e.g. age, handicapped, sickness, ...).

Hope you can learned much from your past failures and put them good new uses. Then, that is true learning from failure.

Lim Liat (c) 17 June 2015

See also: Learning Creativity from a Math Puzzle

02 June 2015

Jack Ma, I-Ching and the Successful Life

In Jack Ma's talk on success given in Korean KBS TV, we can find the wisdom of Ancient Chinese Philosophy of I-Ching still very applicable to our modern and high tech world. Here are the details...

Some Facebook friend shared about this Jack Ma: What Life Should Be Like Between 20 & 60 Years. It sounds very similar to me. Indeed, it is very close to the teaching that I do on I-Ching for success in life and business.

Here is the mind-map showing the similarity of Ma and I-Ching teaching:

Since Jack Ma is a Chinese with a teacher background, it is likely that he know I-Ching well. The key point is Ancient Chinese Wisdom works well even for today high technology world.

See also The Effective Way of Learning - Sharapova Advice for Prodigies, where Sharapova advised the young successful to watch for the real important things in life besides your tennis or business, get mentors and choose your friends, have funs but watch out for temptations, and continue to work hard. Such are taught by I-Ching hexagrams of wisdom too.

Jack Ma's 10 Rules for Success

Here is the bonus, modified slightly from Evan Carmichael's Youtube channel at Jack Ma's Top 10 Rules for Success.

Compare this with my Integrated Success Principles v10 .... You will find many similarities too.

Lim Liat (c) 2-6-2015

30 May 2015

The Effective Way of Learning - Sharapova Advice for Prodigies

Do you have an effective way of learning and accumulating knowledge? When we read good articles, what do we do with them? Here is an example from Maria Sharapova's Advice.

With the French Open Tennis going on, news about the players is many. Here is a very interesting one found. Sharapova advances with advice for prodigies.

Step 1. Do a Mindmap to capture her sayings.
Step 2. Go one step extra to distill what she is telling us. Put your understanding in your own words.
Step 3. You can improve the map better with highlights and punchy keywords.
Step 4. Integrate to your big mindmap of success lessons.

Here is the outcome of Step 3.

Here are the Key Lessons:

1 Most important things in Life are not tennis --- Find them.
2 Watch out for the Temptations! Have fun but have control
3 Get, Be & Listen to Smart Mentors --- Note the need to obey them.
4 Remember the foundational reason for your success.
    --- Don't ever forget the who, what & how for your success.
5 So continue to develop it.

Ancient Chinese Wisdom teaches us the same thing!

The advice from I-Ching to the Young Successful and the Old Successful is the same: 利见大人 ....having great people with you will bring blessings. ... i.e. always have mentors to guide and keep you in check. It is so easy for us to be blinded by our success, especially when we are so young.
Learning from "I-Ching" Part 04 1-乾 Heaven - Creative Force.

The mind-map for Integrated Set of Principles for Success from the various famous people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Li Ka Shing, Lao Zi, and from the Bible is:

Lim Liat (c) 30 May 2015

25 May 2015

The Sun Zi's Art of War that even the experts may not know #3

The Art of War Winners' mindset helps us to understand the rise and fall of nations and also of corporations. It can be the guide for us to build successful businesses. Here is a series of stories of the Smart-phone wars that explained the successes of Apple and Androids and the failures of Nokia-Microsoft phones.
 The Sun Zi's Art of War that even the experts may not know  #3:

Last post The Sun Zi's Art of War that even the experts may not know #2, ends with "I still want to play the catch-up game, what can I do?"

We have to go back to the very basics of Sun Zi's Art of War - the Five Factors and Seven Measures.

The five factors are Philosophy, Seasonal Timing, Terrain Advantages, Leadership, Policies & Processes, and a sixth-factor Customers Desires added by me for business use.

The philosophy of business is best captured in the Mission, Visions, and Values of the business that when really practiced by the top and the bottom will become the culture of the company.
Who has the Best Mission statement?

The Right Way to Do SWOT - TOWS
We will use a well-known method for the design of strategies called SWOT.

But we will follow Sun Zi's teaching and do it in the right order of TOWS.

The first principle from Sun Zi is outside-in analysis. Our perspective should start from the external environment, the external factors, the threats and opportunities, and then looking for the relevant internal factors of our comparative weaknesses and strengths.

The second principle is risk averse, risk first analysis.  Hence we must overcome the threats first before we can talk about the opportunities. If we are unable to address the threats, all the opportunities are false optimism.

These TOWS order guards against the typical optimism of project proposers and sponsors who tend to underestimate the risks and over-rate the potential opportunities.

So our Sun Zi based Outside-In, Threats before Opportunities, TOWS analysis should look like this:


Start with External Factors of Season Timing, Terrain Advantages, and Customers Desires:


The Internal Factors of Philosophy, Leadership, Policies & Processes, Staff:
The Strategic Initiatives:

Lim Liat copyrighted 25 May 2015

Seasonal Trends & Timing for Business includes the PESTEL factors of Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, and Legal.

Terrains for business relates to the markets and market positioning. In the markets are various competitors and supply chain partners and competitors.

The winning principle is to choose the market where your abilities become strengths and your competitors' become irrelevant or weaknesses in the eyes of your target customers.

Every analysis of the TOWS must derive the strategic initiatives that need to take such that:

1. Our weaknesses exposed by the threats are handled and eliminated, or even better converted to strengths to overcome the threats to become opportunities to be exploited.
2. Our strengths exposed by the threats can be gainfully employed to overcome the threats.
3. In the same way, our weaknesses that may prevent us from exploiting the opportunities are eliminated or converted to become strengths to take advantage of the opportunities.
4. Our strengths relevant to the opportunities can be recognized and profitably employed.

We shall use the Google Android experience rather than the earlier mentioned Microsoft successes which may be too old for many younger readers to know.

The Apple iPhone was announced by Steve Jobs in Jan 2007. The first Android phone was HTC dream announced in Sep 2008. So we can roughly say that Android is about 1.5 to almost 2 years behind the iPhone. They have much to catch up then.

So here is the TOWS analysis may be done by Google in 2005-6? (Note: This is my fictitious thinking for illustration of TOWS and were not real).

The weaknesses revealed in the analysis of threats caused Google to use its existing strengths to acquire the skills and to pull in many other leaders in hardware and telecoms to form the OHA to create new strengths to snatch the opportunities from Apple. Android soon became the market shares leader and many of its partners, namely Samsung and HTC earlier and China Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE and lately XiaoMi to become major players in the smart-phone cloud-device market. While they may not be as profitable as Apple and are still successful.

Lim Liat (c) 25 May 2015 
Update 7 Aug 2019 

The Sun Zi of Finance in Action - Holding a lot of cash because there is no good opportunity.

See how the wise apply it in real life. 
For an investor, sitting on idle cash is costly. 
He has to pay his clients interests but the idle cash is not generating any interest at all. 
Yet if you really understand Sun Zi's Outside-In and Threats before Opportunity approach, then you understand Warren Buffett's action. When there is no good opportunity, or if the market is going down, if you invest at all, you at just investing in bad deals (no matter what the optimistic forecasts are. That's the job of the people asking you for investments) and will lose more instead.

So, if the market, the external world, does not provide you any good opportunity, keep your cash. You cannot force it out of the external world. You just have to adapt to it. So wait and see is a good policy to follow.



The Sun Zi's Art of War that even the experts may not know #2

The Art of War Winners' mindset helps us to understand the rise and fall of nations and also of corporations. It can be the guide for us to build successful businesses. Here is a series of stories of the Smart-phone wars that explained the successes of Apple and Androids and the failures of Nokia-Microsoft phones.
In The Sun Zi's Art of War that even the Experts may not know #1, the winning Strategy is making sure others cannot compete with you. When you try to compete with others, you are starting from the loosing position.

The key question is then how can I achieve that?

In 20005 Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgne wrote the Blue Ocean Strategy to tell us how to get out of the red ocean of commoditied fierce competition into the blue ocean of non-competitors. The strategy canvas is a good tool to show you how to differentiate yourself from others. His ERRC and 6 paths are good guides to generate a different curve.

Sun Zi gives us the higher level guidance in
Art of War Chapter 4v7 He who is skilled in defense hides in below the earth; he who is skilled in attack moves in the sky above. Thus he can protect himself safely and gain all out win. 善守者藏于九地之下,善攻者动于九天之上,故能自保而全胜也。

The best defense is that you could be seen. There is no where to find you.

The best attack is to come from the next dimension, the sky, where you are not expected and yet you can still hurt them.

In the last post, I said that Apple created iPhone (cloud device), a new dimension, where the Nokia did not even understand. Only much later, when its sales were greatly impacted, that they tried to compete with iPhone by working with Microsoft - too late and no new value proposition.

Last post ends with, "If you miss the boat, how can you recover?".

In 1998, after Steve Jobs has saved Apple from going bankrupt, he was asked by Rumelt, "What are you trying to do? What’s the longer-term strategy?"

Jobs just smiled and said, “I am going to wait for the next big thing."

His strategy was precisely hiding underground and then attack from the sky (a blue ocean, next dimension market).

The Busy Wait
Most people think that waiting is doing nothing. That's laziness and losers talking. Jesus told his disciples to be busy still he comes again.

In this period of waiting, and hiding, Steve Jobs did incremental innovations for the Mac to keep the company profitable. In the meantime, he saw new opportunities in the music market - the deficiency of packing 20 songs in a CD. He went after a dollar a song anytime anywhere on the go. That's was the iPod and iTune. The new thing was marketed Oct 2001. Then, a major mp3 player, Creative Technology, just like Nokia later in the phone market, did not even know what was happening. They tried to go on a features war with iPod without the understanding of the real business issues. I hope you do remember Creative Technology, one of Singapore proud success stories that impacted the whole world in sound and games PCs.

The winning strategy is to hide while you develop and then create a new wave a new dimension ... i.e. a blue ocean. A blue ocean that sucks the profits out of the red ocean competitors, especially the market leaders of the red oceans. iPod greatly impacted the music and tech businesses and even later, through iTouch and iPhone, the phone market and the telecom market.

The Great Followers
But you may say, Steve Jobs types are rare. Creating a new wave is not easy. How can I really play catch-up successfully? Does Sun Zi have any good strategies?

For catching up strategies, we have to learn from Microsoft - the best followers that replaced the first movers. Microsoft DOS replaced CP-M, Excel replaced Lotus 123 that replaced Vasicalc earlier. Word replaced WordPerfect that replaced WordStar earlier. Even so, we can see how Sun Zi Art of War at play.

Lim Liat (c) 24 May 2015

The Sun Zi's Art of War that even the Experts may not know #1

The Art of War Winners' mindset help us to understand the rise and fall of nations and also of corporations. It can be the guide for us to build successful businesses. Here is a series of stories of the Smart-phone wars that explained the successes of Apple and Androids and the failures of Nokia-Microsoft phones.
I have shared a few posts on Sun Zi's Art of War on my FaceBook. It may be better to share in on my blog for reachig a wider audience. The blog also provide better search capability.

Here is the first one of a series:

What is Competition?
Sun Zi: It is about making sure that no one can compete with us.

A good example is Apple Inc, first with its Mac, then iPod, iPhone and so forth.

Typical Consultant: Identify a target and then try to copy and then out do him.
A businss school professor cited the example of "Killing the Cat" referring to Komatsu competing with Caterpillar. 

Sun Zi: When we start to compete with others, we are already a loser. 

A good example that we can think of is Nokia's attempt to compete with iPhone and the Andriod phone with Microsoft Window-phone.

Where did Sun Zi say that?
Chapter 4 v 1. Sūnzǐ said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy. 孙子曰:昔之善战者,先为不可胜,以待敌之可胜.

If you know Chinese, then a highly recommended book on Sun Zi's Art of War is at http://home.quanjinglian.com/home.php…  But may be I could be biased, for I find quite a number of my original views on Art of War were also shared by the author, 

The follow on question you may want to know is:

If I miss the boat, how can I recover?

See The Sun Zi's Art of War that even the experts may not know #2

Lim Liat (c) 24 May 2015

15 May 2015

The Treasures of Sun Zi's Art of War that You Will Never Find in Books

The Treasures of the Sun Zi's Art of War are buried deep in the spirit of the Art of War. So you will not find them in the many books that cover Sun Zi's Art of War. The common wisdom covered in the books are generally about the strategies to win the war against enemies. They cover know yourself and know your enemy (which is not quite correct. See here). The better ones cover more on knowing the Sky of Weather and Seasons and of the right timing and the Terrain characteristics to gain advantages. Then they cover about deceptions and surprises to out-smart the enemy. Some even mistakenly include the 36-Stratagems as part of the book of Art of War. Such are but superficial knowledge on Sun Zi's Art of War. To gain better wisdom, we need to dig deep into the Art of War and discover the treasures. The spirit of Art of War can be captured in a few key words. The words are very applicable to doing business, besides fighting and winning a war. Here are the few jewels:

Art of War is all about Gains 得

If we need to summarized Sun Zi's Art of War in one word, it will be Accomplishment, or Achievement or Gains. The Chinese word for this is 得.

The Art of War is firstly about how to build up a nation rather than just winning wars. Sun Zi's in Chapter 3 谋攻 (How to Attack) says,  是故百战百胜,非善之善者也;不战而屈人之兵,善之善者也。Therefore, winning every battle is not the best. The best is to subdue them without a battle. It is about building oneself up to such a powerful stage that others are fearful to fight us and acknowledge our leadership or even surrender to us. 

Chapter 3 begins with keeping the enemy's country intact rather than destroying it. To win by strength is best, If not, by negotiations, else by battle in the open space and the worst to attack a castle. It says the best to take over all the resources of the enemy rather than destroying them. Hence, the spirit of the Art of War is about how to Gain without risks of loss. (必以全争于天下,故兵不顿而利可全,此谋攻之法也). So, we can see that:

The book of Art of War is all about how can we gain all. 

Is not this the very purpose of business? 

The purpose of Business is to create profits (=revenues - costs) without the risks. If you want to know how to have profits without risks, then you need to study Sun Zi's Art of War. There is only one key mission in Art of War. It is CUSTOMERS. Peter Drucker said the purpose of business is to create customers. So, we must add Customers into the factors considered by Sun Zi. Customers are people, so are soldiers and generals of wars, for Chinese, people are 人 ren. So we add 人 into Sun Zi's formula which is presented later.

The Meaning of 得 Gain = Know + Do

得 in the oldest bone form is represented by walking to the beach to pick up shells(which are like the coins, money of today). It conveys the concept of knowing where to go, how to search and the need for walking and picking to finally gain the precious shell/coins. It is the combination of knowledge and doing. To gain anything, you need to know and also to do to get it!

We know that just knowing without doing is not real knowing right? Consider swimming. You can know how to swim theoretically but you only know when you jump into the water and swim. So, truly knowing must have both, know and do. Know to do and do to know more. Know and Do together will result in good work which we call accomplishment or achievement or simply success. The Chinese know this well and has a 4 word proverb for it as 知行合一 Know and Do united as one.

The 3B of Gain:
The Art of War gives details on how to gain, in fact, to gain all at minimized risks. To help us to memorize, I will use three B's to describe it. You must know+do the following:
  1. Know and Do the Basics of Strategies & People
  2. Know and Do Before the others.
  3. Know and Do Better than the others.
B1 The Basics of Strategies & People
To be successful, we must know the strategies. the how-to, to achieve our goals and getting the rigth people to execute the strategies. Sun Zi teaches us how to design the winning strategies. He also teaches us about leadership and how to create organization power and how to maintain organization health avoiding the errors. These shall be covered in greater details in the subsequent post. However, if you like to know the d etails immediately, my earlier posts are Sun Zi Art of War (Sun Tzu) in One MinuteSun Zi Art of War-2: How to Manage the Five Factors and the links there in.

B2 Before the Others
There is the temptation to use the word "First".  But the key for comparison is relative to your competitor. If you and your friend are being chased by a bear, you don't need to out run the bear. You just need to be one step faster than your friend. First mover have advantages and also great risks and costs. You don't want to be too early in the eagerness to be first and ends up in the bleeding edge. You rather need to in the leading edge. It is about seizing the initiative, regaining the initiative rather than be outright first. Waiting for the right time and place is a key teaching of Sun Zi. Just staying one step ahead is good enough. While Apple tends to lead the market, he also keep its best for later releases. Apple took its time to release the larger screens for its iphones but when it does, it gains great successes.

B3 Better than Others:
Before is about timeing. Better is about features, effectiveness, efficiency, proficiency and excellence. It is about doing the right things and doing them rightly. Again, it is Better than others and not be the very best. Best is a dangerous word. It gives us the wrong idea that no improvement is needed because that is best. We also tend to look at it from our own point of view. It ignore that over time, others will catch up with us. Better is a better word than best. It open our mind to improvement and to others.

Summary of Sun Zi's Art of War:
Art of War teaches us the following formula:

    Gains All = Know+Do (Basics, Before, Better) 
    over our competiors in the eyes of our customers.
This is roughly the first part of a new book, "The Complete Leadership and Strategic Insights of Sun Zi's Art of War for Business" that I am writing. More details on the Basics, Before and Better will be covered in the book. Hope you like it.

Your Turn:

For the time being, ask yourself the following 3 questions (at least for this year annual restreat or planning exercises):

1. Have you covered the basics?
2. What can be done before others?
3. What can be better than others?

Lim Liat (c) 15 May 2015

For more on Sun Zi see V Sun Zi and Other Strategists(Gui Gu Zi)
For more on Ancient Chinese Wisdom see Mind Value: Ancient Chinese Wisdom

The Chinese Word for Know and Do

What is the meaning of the word in the picture?

Here is the story:

The Power of Chinese Language and Word:

Chinese word is an extensible language with much power in conveying meaning.

Let's take a example, the word for walk or do is xing.

If you move quickly, rush, creating momentum, then you are putting heavy weight or mass in walk so you get the word chon, meaning rush or attack.

To control the movement of a horse, you put a metal bit in the horse's mouth. The Chinese word for the bit is xian. Hence, if you do well and graduated, or if you do great work, people will give title known as 头衔 tou xian.

Now that you get the drift, what should be the word that cover both know and do ?

We know that just knowing without doing is not really knowing right? Consider swimming. You can know how to swim theoritically but you only know when you jump into the water and swim. So, truly knowing must have both, know and do. Know to do and do to know more. Know and Do together will result in good work which we call accomplishment or achievement or simply success.

The Chinese know this well and has a 4 word proverb for it as 知行合一 Know and Do united as one. So you will be tempted to create such a word as shown in the picture below. You can't find the word actually. There is no such word in Chinese not because they don't want to create one but because there is no need to. There is such a word already. It is , meaning gain, obtain, achieve.

in the oldest crafted on bone or shell form is represented by walking to the beach to pick up shell(which is like the coin, money of today). It coveys the concept of knowing where to go, how to search and walking and picking. It is the combination of know and do. To gain anything, you need to know and also to do to get it!

Do you like chinese? For more, see Chinese Words Make You Smarter.

12 May 2015

Learning Success from Failures & How to Accumulate Knowledge to be Wiser

Don't just read their failures and lessons. Do some processing and digestion of the knowledge read. Here is a 3 Step process to show you how to use the computer as your mind-extender to become wiser over the years. 
There are many books, blog posts and social media sharing about the successes and failures of business. Recently, some friend on Facebook shared this  With a simple googling, we can find this 33 Start ups That Died Reveal Why They Failed - Business ... and this Entrepreneurs reveal their failures en route to success ..., and this 7 Reasons Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail in Business and etc. How can we really their lessons and apply them in our business and even in our lives? I suggest the following 3 steps process:

  1. Digest the Lessons learned from the blog post/book. This it best done with a mind-map.
  2. Build Your Success Knowledge Base. This is done by integrating the mind-maps from step 1 into your own knowledge base of success principles successively over time.
  3. Consult Your Success Knowledge Base whenever you need to. It is good even to browse the knowledge base now and then for you own reflection.
Step 1 Digesting by Mind-Mapping:

A main use of the mind-map is to group the 13 lessons into 7 categories using your own words. You may want to re-order as to the timing sequence or priority. So I have "Come out and Start it" as the first category, customers as second, agility as third and so forth. We can also see that the common mistakes are not talking to customers and not focusing with 3 failures each.  Surprising, Cash or Funding was mentioned only once. This must have been the ease of raising funds in the availability of Angel and Venture capitals and the various government grants and subsidies programs. Nevertheless, one key rule is the less the cash burnt, the higher the valuation and the likelihood of funding. 

Step 2 Integrating to Your Success Knowledge Base:
I have built a Integrated Success Principles mind-map many years earlier based on the sayings for the very successful people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Stephen Covey and even from the Bible and Ancient Chinese Wisemen like Lao Zi and modern successful Chinese like Li Ka Shing. I hope to have a fusion of the best from the East and West. I compared the lessons learned in Step 1 and the wisdom I have here and integrated them into my map. There is almost nothing new to add, showing the power of the existing Knowledge Base. However, there is this failure lesson 7 "7 Never let growth exceed my own ability to fund it. If I am tempted to seek outside funding, it is a sign of a flawed business model."that impressed me.  In this world of easy money and leveraging, reading this reminded me of HP founders policy of financing growth internally. So I added this to Money branch of "Methods for Growth".  It also triggered other thoughts.

It also reminded of the "Sun Zi's Art of War for Business" courses that I have been teaching and was surprised that I did not include this in the map. So I took this opportunity to modify my map adding in a new main topic of "The External World", the 天 Seasons/Weather trend. and 地 Terrain Characteristics in Art of War emphasising the needs to take an Outside-In situational analysis in the design of strategies. The other 5 factors of Art of War, the 道 Dao - Way, the Business Philosophies and Cultural Values, 将 Commanders/Leaderships, and 法 Policies and Operation Systems can easily find their main branches and be included there. Then there is Peter Drucker's saying about business is about creating customers. So, it is added. 

Here is the big mind-map, the version 10, for your consideration:

Step 3 Look-up or Browse the Map for the Advice you need.

Do you have an issue with your business? You can browse the main branches to see if you can find a related topic, roughly will do. You can look into the sub-branches for more details. Then if still unclear, do a google on the subject to discover more. The Internet cloud is the wisdom data base of millions of people. It could and should be a good source of reference. The Consolidated Map provides a guide to your search for answers.

Hope you can find the guide that will lead you further. All the very best to your business success.

Lim Liat(c) 12 May 2015

11 April 2015

Learning Creativity from a Math Puzzle

By looking at the answers for a math puzzle, we can derive some creative rules that we may use to solve other problems that we face in life.

Some friend on Facebook shared the following puzzle from http://9gag.com/gag/aWWv2bx?ref=fbp.
I cleaned up the photo a bit for clarity and show it below:

The Puzzle:

Learning from the Crowd:

If you scroll through the answers offered, we can find many interesting ones that seemingly solve the puzzle. Here are some answers that I find interesting:
(If you find any more answers, let me know and I will try to add in here. I did not go through the whole long list).
  1. You can't just go around asking white people questions designed for an Indian. 
  2. Impossible! 3 odd numbers can never make an even number. 
  3. The question is "can you solve it ?" Answer is "no" 
  4. Read closely and you will see it never stated fill in ALL the boxes... 15+15+[ ]=30 
  5. 1▢+1▢+1▢=30 
  6. 3! + 15 + 9 = 30  (3! is 3 factorial, which is 3x2x1=6)
  7. Nobody said we could not used the decimal point: 7.5+7.5+15=30 or 15.3 + 13.7 + 1 =30 
  8. Put in two numbers in a box as: [1+3] + [5+7] + 13 = 30 
Applying to the Real World:

The real world will be demanding you to solve such seemingly difficult problem.  So what and how should you do? 

Abstract one level higher from the above answers provided, I have derive the follow creative rules or principles from the answers, in corresponding order,  for better life or for your problem solving:
  1. Laugh at it and ignore it. Be happy. 
  2. Say it is impossible and do something else. 
  3. Examine the situation, you may have misunderstood or misread it. 
  4. Examine the situation, they are not demanding too much but you have.
  5. Look at it with a different perspective. Take a helicopter view. 
  6. Solve it with better technology and skills. 
  7. Introduce new ingredients. 
  8. Re look at the assumptions, are we over restrictive?
Now, are you facing a difficult issue? Apply the above 8 rules to your issue and hope you can come out with some good answers.

Lim Liat (c) 11 Apr 2015

If you want some more, here is a philosophical one ....The Power of Void - Emptiness is Useful said Lao Zi.

Here is my creative thinking method ...BVITS (Bvotech’s Innovation Thinking System)