Monthly Archives: April 2020

“Studies show that 40% of the anxiety felt by people in the world is focused on things that will never happen. Apparently 30% is related to the past which we cannot change, 12% to other people’s criticism and 10% to health.

It is a very curious reality that only 8% of the time do we really worry about concerns that need to be faced in the here and now.”

Dr. Amy Orr-Ewing, Festival of Thought, Singapore

Even as we approach news of tightening circuit breaker till 1 June 2020, and thoughts of what ifs scenarios. If I can give you a penny for every time I hear the word “Covid 19”, turning on the television and see higher infection numbers. How can I bring the positive into the negative. Instead, every time I hear the word, I put myself into a meditation retreat with the acronyms. Try it for your self. Come up with your own.

C = Connect

Safe distancing doesn’t equal social isolation. Connect with friends, neighbours, family via technology. Connect with your emotions, understand its ok to feel fear, anxiety. Connect with your body. Breathe.  This too shall pass.

O = Options

What are your options? What can you control? What resources, medical, financial aid, healthcare are available?

What you cannot control? Other people’s thoughts and actions.

V = Values

Where is your compass? What values guide your actions and activities?  How will you want to emerge from this?

I =Inspire

What inspires you? What meaning and purpose can you draw strength from?

D = Do

It takes 21 days to form a habit. What activities can you meaningful engage in? Form a routine? What is within your control? What is outside your control? Example, people’s opinions. Do what’s within your ability to control.

“Virtues and vices – like carpets and hats – obey the law of fashion, and at different times, society with infuriating inconsistency punishes or rewards the same trait.

What characteristic in Churchill, won him adulation and honors? The same characteristic that earned him censure: his love of war. He never changed, but the values of the world did.

And if the years before 1940 were a prelude, the years after the war were a long decline. In the 1945 election, even before Japan surrendered, Churchill was ejected from office. The public sensed in him the permanent relish for battle, and they wanted no more of it.

Ch13 Churchill’s Bellligerence, His Defining Characteristic from “Forty ways of looking at Churchill” by Gretchen Rubin.

Can our weakness be our strengths?

Is there such a thing as strength or weakness? Gretchen Rubin concluded Ch 12 with this observation “Churchill didn’t care what anyone else thought. He never shut up, he was rude, he was undignified. Churchill’s greatest fault was the fault of his greatest virtue. His disdain for other’s opinions gave him his own clear vision, and he saw what others missed. Willingness to consider all points of view can be a source of weakness as well as strength; in 1940, Churchill knew the true course and led the way without listening to anyone.”

Forty ways of looking at Churchill” by Gretchen Rubin.

My initial reaction to the PM’s announcement that the “circuit breaker” will be extended till 1 June 2020, was one of despondence. Failing to queue for my favourite bubble tea, I went to Chinatown to buy a box of plum wine roast chicken and Chinese roast duck. The food surprisingly tasted bland. The mind plays tricks on our desires.

Instead of mopping if an L shaped or W shaped recession awaits round the corner, what if I use the next 10 days as entering a meditative retreat, in my own home. Minus tv or news. Minus noise. Minus activity. Just deep breathing. Simple food. But

allowed to read and write.

allowed to walk.

allowed to listen

to me

Not judge.

Today, the government is serious, a fine of $300 will be imposed on anyone who defies safe distancing rules. I discover, during this period, that I’m a sociable Introvert. Telecommuting is not the heaven I imagine it to be.

In Singapore, we even have a dish that requires us to engage socially, the lo-hei, a raw dish salad dish that we toss and wish each other blessings. Networking is the oil which culture is passed. Covid-19 is spread across this networking.

I am digging up a book by Michael Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Social anthropologists such as Dunbar have long hypothesized that a species’ brain size or its neocortex is a function of its social group. Most animals have brains in proportion to their body size – species with larger bodies often have larger brains. But humans have bigger brains, six times larger than that expected for our body size.

This has puzzled researchers, as the brain is draining resource – burning 20% of the body’s energy while accounting for only 4% of its mass.

As evolution tends to eliminate waste, how did humans evolve large, energy-consuming brains?

A dominant hypothesis suggests that challenging social interactions were the driving force. Ecological problems only lead to human-sized brains when individuals can keep learning hard skills as they grow. When individuals learn from allies their culturally accumulated knowledge, such as making fire. Mauricio González-Forero and those of others suggest that a hard ecology and the accumulation/ transmission of cultural knowledge socially could act in concert to produce a human sized brain.

Why do we need to connect? Whether you believe in evolution or are a creationist, research seems to point that human survival is wired for it.

There is a price tag on relationships. Studies on the brain’s reward center, which turns on when people feel pleasure, found that the brain’s reward centre was indeed more active when people gave $10 to charity than when they received $10.  Emily Esfahani Smith

But the law of nature demands that sometimes, we have to be alone. A caterpillar enters a cocoon stage before it transforms into a butterfly. To transform from the ordinary world to the world of adventure, a hero needs to cross the threshold of tension between safety and growth. There is an illusion of safety when we hold on the familiar. Or now, during covid-19 when being safe means to keep a social distance.

The path of transformation starts with recognising that the pull of the familiar which is no longer relevant.

  1. Know thyself. To embark on a hero’s journey of personal transformation, start with self knowledge. There are several tools you can try: Strengths based VIA, or Jung influenced 16 personalities. As Socrates puts it, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.
  2. Future Self. While most strengths based instruments look at your top 5 strengths, another use of the VIA, is to examine the bottom 5 strengths that are underutilised or ignored. In my case, it is “creativity”, “zest” and “leadership”. This period of isolation gives me the space to map out where I want to be one year from now and the road map to get there.
  3. Goal-setting. World renowned educator and business coach, Marshall Goldsmith, Career Coach suggests in “What got you here, won’t get you there”, that we ask 6 questions with our team, “Where are you going”, “Where are we going”, “What are some suggestions for improvement”, “How can I help”, “What are some suggestions for me to be a better manager”. Some goals to work on, could be to ask yourself daily questions. “Did I do my best today” to: be happy, have positive relationships, meaning work towards my goals. Take up courses at Linkedin Learning or learn UX at GA.
  4. Build Accountability. “In leading through relationships”, Leadership Imagineer,Simon Bailey suggests that you can either get a coach or an accountability partner to go on the journey with you on developing yourself. Meet via Skype or any technology platform.
  5. Virtual Watercooler. One of the things we miss about going to work is bumping into colleagues at the pantry, or popping into your boss office for a quick check-in. Or catch up on office gossip during lunch, or on the way to the washroom. All that is gone with WFH. Teams at General Assembly have moved their happy hours online, as that is part of social grooming which is a necessary part of working life and building company culture. Others have created online exercise time together.
  6. Transition. Before WFH, the commute time from work to home allows the brain to decompress and signal that we are entering a different space. With WFH, that demarcation is gone and the overspill can create some form of anxiety or stress. Go for a walk- with your mask on, or play some music. Visualise the evening or start a gratitude journal on how you’ve survived another day.

In the meantime, stay safe. Only two more weeks to go.

Photo credit: NL, Taxi drivers having a conversation while waiting for customers, Okinawa 2018

Paul wrote his epistles in prison

John wrote the book of Revelation isolated in Patmos caves

David wrote some Psalms while hiding in caves running away from King Saul.

The cave/ prison/pit isolation experience runs through the Old Testament and New Testament Bible.

Several of the world’s leading schools of faith record their founders receiving divine insights during periods of isolation/ retreat.

Shakespeare could have conceived/ wrote his major Tragedies between 1603 and 1613, when his powers as a writer were at their height. His theatre, “the Globe and other London playhouses were shut for an astonishing total of 78 months – more than 60% of the time. [“Shakespeare in Lockdown: Did he write King Lear in plague quarantine?” Andrew Dickson, The Guardian, 22 March 2020]

According to “Deng Xiaoping” by Ezra Vogel, Deng formulated plans how to reform China in his 3yrs, banished by boss to manual labor in the Jiangxi rural countryside. Deng, the chief architect of China’s economic rise, read late into the night, and worked in the factory by day, did housework in evening, looking after aged parents, crippled son and ill wife. He was 65 yrs old then, while younger men fell to depression.

President Nelson Mandela of South Africa spent 27 yrs in prison for protesting against apartheid, emerged to forgive those who put him there. “I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There was no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks.” He used the time as “university behind bars”. (Mandela death: How he survived 27 yrs in prision, Mike Wooldridge, BBC, 2013)

How will you emerge from the cave of covid-19 “safe distancing”?

“Your mind is the garden, 
your thoughts are the seeds,
the harvest can either be flowers or weeds.” Wordsworth

How to retyre, 7 May 2015

“Just as one would try to understand the landscape before setting out on a journey, one needs to understand the culture of an organisation before embarking on organisation change”, Gary Bolles, Singularity University.

The same can be said of examining its talent strategy and competencies, at an organisation’s growth phases. Greiner’s model predicts 6 phases and 5 crises that organizations go through. By identifying what stage the organization is in, a recruiter or coach can better determine staffing needs for the organization to get to the next phase.

According to Greiner, organisation growth is not straightforward, and unless the organisation changes, it will not be able to get on to the next stage.

Phase 1: Growth through Creativity

Greiner found from his research that at the birth of organisations, its founders are usually “technical or entrepreneurial oriented”. Energies are focused on making and selling a product. Communication among employees is informal.

However, as the company expands, more employees are hired, they cannot be managed only through informal communication. There’s a need for more formal communication and professional managers to take over the management responsibilities that founders find “burdensome”. At this point, a crisis of leadership occurs as founders often resist letting go.

Coaching and staffing needs to move to stage two: the organization’s founders to be less hands-on and provide more direction.  Greiner suggests bringing in professional functional business managers (e.g. marketing or finance manager) “compatible with the founders and who can pull the organization together.”

Phase 2: Growth through Direction.
With capable functional managers, growth continues through a functional organizational structure with specialized roles like marketing and human resources.

At some point, with increasing workload, the professional managers begin to ask for more control, such as a marketing budget, while founders may struggle to let go. A crisis of autonomy emerges where work and authority needs to be delegated to lower levels.

Coaching and staffing needs to move to stage three: Coaching skills for founders to empower employees and delegate responsibility, lower level managers to take initiative and make decisions independently.

Phase 3: Growth through Delegation

With more delegation in this phase of decentralistion, more products introduced, with more divisional managers, the management find that they lose touch with what’s happening in the organisation.

At this point, a crisis of control results, managers face difficulty coordinating all divisions operating independently, and how to get different divisions to work better together.

Coaching or staffing needs to move to stage four:

To achieve greater coordination, more employees are hired at headquarters (HQ) to standardise processes and harmonise companywide programmes, such as Six Sigma. The ability to implement processes and programs for efficiency, standardisation, cost savings, corporate look. This brings stability and consistency to the organization.

Phase 4: Growth through Coordination

With more employees hired to implement companywide programmes, soon the centralised HQ becomes too focused on efficiency and bureaucracy and loses the ability to innovate and conquer new markets. This phase ends with a Red-Tape Crisis as the organisation becomes unresponsive to needs of the local customers.

Coaching or staffing needs to move to stage five :

Organization needs to develop better people managers and introduce more flexibility, staff engagement and team-work to develop evolutionary growth.

Phase 5: Growth through Collaboration

Finally, overcoming the red-tape crisis, L&D professionals like Britt Andreatta recommend that the organisation adopts a more flexible agile approach (e.g., team work, matrix structure) with emotionally intelligent leaders.

But soon the very mature business runs out of ideas on how to add products to its portfolio and faces a growth crisis.

Coaching or staffing needs to move to stage six :

Managers who can participate in the globalised market and network outside the organisation for opportunities through external partnerships, such as strategic alliances and acquisitions, outsourcing for efficiency and even new ideas using Blue Ocean Strategy.  [Greiner suggests providing sabbaticals for employees, moving managers in and out of hot-spot jobs etc to connect better.] Networking for ideas is an important skills set.

Phase 6: Growth through Alliance

Recently, the Greiner model was updated to include the 6th stage or growth through alliance. In “Network for Advantage”, INSEAD Professors Professors Henrich Greve and Andrew Shipilov explore how organisations such as Samsung have unlocked value through such partnerships.

A crisis is not long in the horizon when the organisation may face a new challenge, a crisis of identity. Paul Petrone suggests for the organization to continue on its evolution, it “needs to reinvent  its vision and mission and partner with organizations that best further that”.

Relevance of the Greiner model

Greiner’s model has relevance for recruiters and career coaches to understand that change is inevitable for the organisation to grow. Consultants or coaches implementing change management programs are to examine best practice vs best fit vs to the organisation’s growth stage. Inability of management to adopt a new style to deal with these crises will result in firm’s failure to move forward.

Organisations can go through these phases peacefully and without crises when leaders recognise the tension and the “change management” needed to be put in place.

What do you think about Greiner’s model for growth? Does it reflect the stages which your organisation has gone through? Give me some comments.


  1. Always make your future bigger than your past.
  2. Always make your learning greater than your experience.
  3. Always make your contribution bigger than your reward.
  4. Always make your performance greater than your applause.
  5. Always make your gratitude greater than your success.
  6. Always make your enjoyment greater than your effort.
  7. Always make your cooperation greater than your status.
  8. Always make your confidence greater than your comfort.
  9. Always make your purpose greater than your money.
  10. Always make your questions bigger than your answers.

I recently chanced upon the writings of strategic coach Dan Sullivan whose 10 laws of growth are so inspiring if you, like me struggle with how opportunistic networking can be.

If we know that networking is necessary, whats holding us back? Fear of rejection.

1. Courage to step out. Curiosity to acquire diversity of experiences.

2. Commitment to change

3. Capability – deep work

4. Confidence

Adapted fron the 4Cs of Dan Sullivan.