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)

03 April 2015

Critical Thinking on Singapore Fertility 2 - It is more than Economics

We over-simplify an issue, such as fertility rate, to one factor, the economic $, and then wonder why our baby bonus program is not effective. It is important that we take a system approach, understanding the values, and all other factors, and systematically compute to come out with better proposals - not just one, but many that complement one another running concurrently.
A friend email me the following link https://sg.finance.yahoo.com/news/why-isn-t-baby-bonus-160000923.html. If you read the post and the subsequent comments, and the government that come out with policy hoping to increase the fertility rate, have all reduced the issue into a economic one. Give me more subsidies, reduce the cost of living, give me work life balance etc and I will produce more babies?

If we look at the chart Fertility rate - Wikipedia or do a quick run through at Country Comparison :: Total fertility rate - The World Factbook, without going through a more rigorous analysis of fertility-rate vs Per-capita GDP, we can easily conclude that the richer the countries, the lower the fertility rate! If you believe this is true, then we should go for a recession to increase fertility rate. (See Fooling Ourselves and Others with Stats - Fertility Rate vs Home Prices).

A popular subject being taught in the university is Behavioral Economics. It reminds us that our decision making is more than just dollars and cents. There are psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors involved. In fact, I strongly believe that the fertility rate issue has a lot to do with our values. Our values about what is a meaningful life and about posterity. Chinese in the past, and even recent past, despite their poverty, tend to have large families, even of 10 and more that are not infrequent. Why? Because one the Chinese value is “不孝有三,无后为大”《孟子·离娄上》, Not having any baby is the greatest sin of the three sins of filial piety.  But the values of our present post modern society is Me'ism first. Our pleasures and our careers come first in live. Making more money, as status, as pleasure, as whatever, is more important. Seeing every problem as a money problem is the result of such money centric mindset that we now possess. Of course, not everyone think like that, so we still have people having babies for other meaningful reasons besides economics.

What I am more concern is the mindset that lead to single factor analysis of any problem.  We tend to over simplify problems and wonder why we are over-simplified proposal does not work. Is this simplicity caused by the Internet instant response and group-think? We need to go back to the basic and learn to look at a problem with the system mindset and think systematically. We need to go back to some philosophies and rethink our values.  For me, I am more familiar with Ancient Chinese Wisdom and Chinese Classics and the Bible and offer them as possible starting points. If you like Sun Zi's Art of War, then perhaps, you can find a good summary in The Real Master of Sun Zi's Art of War. But the keys are to find our values, discover all the factors or forces involved, and then know how to calculate rightly to get the right solution.

Coming back, giving baby bonuses, reducing the costs of living (or increasing the salary with productivity) , making it convenient and low costs for baby and child care are all good things to do. But they are not the main motivators for having babies. We must make changes to the values, the society structure, and supported by the economic incentives and even political and legal factors, can we tend have some influence on the fertility-rate.  We must look at an issue more as complex system of interacting factors and not to over-simplify them. It is not easy to solve but the rewards for solving is great.

Lim Liat (c) 3 April 2015

See also: Critical Thinking on Singapore Fertility 1 - Is it a problem?

01 April 2015

The Real Master of Sun Zi's Art of War

Sun Zi's Art of War can be summarized in 5 keys. They are calculation, completenss, multipliers, deception and transformation. But the foundation is about calculation, evaluating the various possibilities after considering all the factors and going for a complete win of maximizing the benefits at minimized costs and risks. From George Yeo's comments on Mr Lee, we can know that Mr Lee was indeed the real master of Art of War.
After writing this blog post Art of War reveals the Greatness of Lee Kuan Yew and the Success of Singapore, I was pleased to the following news Lee Kuan Yew stood 'very high' in the eyes of other leaders ... that mentioned Mr Lee's knowledge of Sun Zi by George Yeo.  I quote Mr Yeo's answer for the 5th Question "Mr Lee ... the bigger picture. Can you elaborate on that?" below to show that Mr Lee was a real master and practitioner of Sun Zi's Art of War. (Mr Lee was of course much much more knowledgeable and wise on many subjects than just Sun Zi. This is just to show that when he learned a subject, he would master it well.)

Mr Yeo's answer:
Well, I am not quite sure how carefully he read Sun Tzu. But he quoted Sun Tzu quite often - about knowing yourself and knowing your opponent. Then when you have a 100 battles, you have a 100 victories. 
In fact the key principle is – you must choose your battles and do not fight the battles that you cannot win.  
He calculated very carefully, looking at the issue from all sides. Yes, he was prepared to take risks, but they were calculated risks. And I think for that reason whether it was a matter of foreign policy, matter of domestic politics he was able and prepared to push limits much more than most of us would have  thought realistic or wise, because he had the shroud understanding of the forces at play.
The Keys or Essence of Sun Zi's Art of War

The common understanding about Art of War is cited in blue in the above quote "about knowing yourself and knowing your opponent. 

This is actually a misquote from the original text. It should be knowing the enemy before knowing yourself. It is typical in many SWOT analysis to begin with our strengths and weaknesses, an inside-out approach. But Sun Zi tells us to take an "Outside-In" approach. Doing an inside-out approach will cause us to see what we like to see rather than the actual situation, relative to the enemy, competitors and customers and markets (if we are apply Sun Zi in business). For more see SunZi Art of War - The Misquotes and Keys that are missed even by the Experts. Nevertheless, we must always look at things from both sides and better from all sides (the red quotes above) to appreciate the reality and forces at work.

Now the more important thing is WHAT to know? HOW MUCH to know is enough? Sun Zi gives us 5 factors and 7 measures. See Sun Zi Art of War (Sun Tzu) in One Minute or Sun Zi’s Art of War Formula – Simple yet Comprehensive

1st Calculate 计
So, the basic element of Art of War is actually about "Calculation".  The very first chapter of the 13 Chapter of Art of War is "计" Calculate or  “始计” Start with Calculation. The confusion lies in the Chinese word 计 which could stand for calculate as in 计算 or tricks as in 36计 (The 36 Strategem, 36 tactics or 36 tricks. ) We begins with calculation and if our result is higher than our enemy, then we have a good chance of winning against the enemy. Sun Zi tells us that the wise commander plan first to win before starting the war. The foolish commander goes into a war and then try to win.  Art of War Chapter contains the following text 校之以计而索其情,... 吾以此知胜负矣。translated as, compare the calculation and know the happenings .... from these I can know win or loss.

2nd Complete 全 (Win completely)
This then leads us to the 2nd gist of Art of War. It is about 全 Complete, or in our local dialect, Bao Jia 包吃, guarantee good to eat. See Durians, Singaporeans, Li Ka Shing and Sun Zi's Art of War. We calculate to achieve the highest benefits at the lowest costs and minimised risks.  Sun Zi tells us that the best strategy is not winning every time but win without a war because war is destructive. He also gives us many other principles for such complete winning that we can cover in some future posts. 

3rd Use the Force Multipliers 势 ( Power = Energy/time)
The third gist is to use multipliers or amplifiers to get maximum impact with minimum effort. What are the multipliers? The Heaven, Terrain and People (the factors mentioned earlier by Sun Zi). The Chinese saying is 天时地利人和. That is to ride on the seasonal forces or trends, the terrain characteristics and the desires of people.  Apple iPhone creates the new wave of smart phone and dethrone Nokia. Androids ride on the smart phone wave created by Apple to gain the largest market share.  Creating a wave is very difficult. Riding on a rising wave is easier. MM Lee with his teams of talents started many programs that ride on the situation then and become the model for many other countries to follow. The situation now is different and the new team faces new challenges. Understanding Sun Zi's Art of War will definitely help them chart the future of Singapore to build on the legacies of MM Lee. Heaven (the seasons) is beyond our control. We have to adapt and follow it to gain the advantage without costs. Terrain, however, is under our control. We can choose where we want to fight, or in business terms, the market, position and positioning of our offering. This reflected in Mr Yeo' purple quotes ... you choose your battle that you can win

4th Deception 诡 (Or in business terms, Innovations, changing the rules of the game)
Sun Zi tells us that we can prevent defeat but we have no direct control over the enemy to win. Winning depends on enemy making mistakes. We just build ourselves strongly against any attack and then wait for the opportunity where the enemy makes mistakes. Of course, Sun Zi tells us that we can influence the enemy to make mistakes. He gave us 12 in chapter 1 and another 10 in chapter 6 with additional principles mentioned in the rest of the book. 

5th Transform/Change 变 Endlessly
We don't only change, making the threats to become opportunities and the strengths of the enemy weak, we change our techniques endlessly so that we are not predictable. We continue to watch, read, understand and exploit the every changing situations for our benefits. Borrowing from Steve Jobs, "Stay foolish and stay hungry" --- to be humble, to learn always and to apply and adapt and grow without end.

Back to Basic - Calculate in Consideration of All Forces at Work.
So, what is the foundation of the wisdom of Sun Zi's Art of War?
The 2nd to 5th keys are actually the additional factors to be considered in the calculation. 
The foundation of Art of War is about examining all the forces at play in our situation, our theatre of operations, to work out the possible plans of actions, to be able to calculate the benefits, costs and risks of the various plans, and choose one that gives the best benefits at minimum costs and risks. And continue to monitor and adapt the changing situations that arises.

i.e. He calculated very carefully, looking at the issue from all sidesYes, he was prepared to take risks, but they were calculated risks

I hope I have given you the keys of Sun Zi's Art of War and you find them refreshingly useful compared to what you may have know about Art of War. I hope you are persuaded that our nation founding father MM Lee was indeed a master of the Art of War. Let's follow his example of knowing a subject in depth rather than superficially.

Jesus is another Master:
If you know the Bible well, then another person also master the Art of War without saying so. We can find it in Luke 14:31“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?     This is calculation to know whether one can win or loose. Then next verse reveals the 2nd Key Complete, in the case, preserve, of Art of War.
14:32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. Seeking peace is the next best solution as told by Sun Zi in the following text:

[3谋攻] 故上兵伐谋, 其次伐交, 其次伐兵, 其下攻城。  
[Chapter 3 Attack Strategy] The best soldiers win by politics(a strong nation and partnership for eg), if unable, by external affairs (negotiation), then by sending forces, and the worse is to attack the fortified castle.

Lim Liat (c) 1 Apr 2015