Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Banish Cold Feet

Saturday, June 27, 2009


About ten years ago, I was in Las Vegas for a two week business trip. Before the trip, I was full of confidence that I would not be gambling.


If there is such a thing as a gamblers’ paradise, Las Vegas is it. The moment you step off the plane, you are greeted by one armed bandits even before meeting any airport officers.

Once out of the airport, there were jackpot machines at the taxi stands, petrol stations, at the car rental company where we picked up our car, convenience stalls, literary everywhere we turned.

We were careful to select a hotel away from the main strip of casinos. But there were jackpot machines at the hotel lobby, restaurant and bar! Fortunately, they did not put slot machines in our rooms!

When we were off work, we would tour the casino strip.

The cheerful atmosphere along the strip just attracts people like moths to a burning candle. I was able to tour the strip for more than a week without touching any of the gaming machines or sitting down at the gaming tables.

I did indulge myself on the sumptuous spread of food offered by the casinos. The food was fresh, delicious, plentiful and served in a cheerful ambience. There was cuisine to pamper every palette and taste. The service was superb. They made us feel and feast like kings. Best of all, the meals were at very attractive prices. Just $10
will get you all you can eat of top quality food!

There were also the entertaining shows and shopping paradises inside the casinos.

Eventually, the excitement of the gaming room sucked me in. I began to wander around the gaming machines and at the card tables. I was fascinated by the technology of the computerised gaming machines and the behaviour of the patrons.

Now and then, I would hear a bell ringing and a siren cheerfully announcing that another person had just struck the jackpot! The people would surge forward to see who the lucky person was. The windfalls range from tens of thousands to more than a million dollars.

More than a week passed uneventfully for me. I was pleased and proud that my resolve was holding up well.

It was just a couple more days before we were due to leave Vegas, when I finally caved in to temptation. I purposely brought only twenty dollars of cash with me to the gaming hall and told myself that the worst that could happen was I lose twenty small potatoes. Who knows? I might be the next lucky one to strike the big jackpot!

I put in my first dollar coin and poof! the money was gone in a second. I put in another and another and by the fourth dollar, the machine was clanging happily! I had struck a mini jackpot and three hundred golden dollar coins tumbled noisily into the tray!!

Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! ! !

It was exhilarating!

I was elated!! By now, I had forgotten my earlier plan to stop at only twenty dollars. My mind was only thinking about striking another jackpot. The day continued; I won some and lost some. By the end of the day, I lost all $300 I won plus the twenty dollars I brought with me.

I could not wait to come back the next day. This time I did not impose any limits on myself. All I wanted was to get back the money that I lost the day before, before returning home. The events of the previous day repeated itself. I had some good luck and lost some but by the end of the day, I had lost all $1,000 cash I had on me!

There was the option of just swiping my credit card and presto! I could have access to my bank account to play at the slot machines. Fortunately, good sense prevailed as I realised that that could have my whole bank account cleaned out in the blink of an eye. In any case, it was already time for me to return to Singapore.


I learned three lessons for myself from this episode.

Do not be deceived by the seemingly wholesome attractions such as the entertaining shows, excellent food and exciting shopping. Once you get in, it’s half the battle won for the casino. These seemingly harmless activities are baits designed to draw you close enough to give the casino the opportunity they need to break down your resolve.

Do not step into the gaming room out of curiosity. Once you are in the gaming room, your willpower will surrender, sooner or later.

The second lesson is, in the long run, the casino always wins. The odds are set in favour of the casino. Even if you are lucky and strike the jackpot early in the game, if you do not take your money and run, the casino will win all of it back plus whatever money you are willing to wager.

Finally, I have to accept my losses and run NOW. There is really no chance of winning our money back from the casino. The harder we try to win our money back, the more money we will lose.


Discomfort is a Key Stage in Personal Mastery

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Every year this time, during the durian season, I am reminded of faraway Canada.

About twenty years ago, when I was in school on the island of Newfoundland off Canada’s Atlantic coast, the caplin fish spawning season was one of the highlights of the year.

The caplin is a member of the herring family. The caplin is silver in colour with a cigar shaped, slender body. The female fish is about 20cm long and the male is slightly longer at 25cm.

The female fish and its roe is a favourite in Japanese cuisine known as Shishamo.

The annual spawning season is in the mid summer around the June and July period (just like our durian season now). Every year this time, the caplin will migrate from the cold waters north of Greenland and Iceland, heading south to the numerous coves of Newfoundland.

After class and dinner, we will bundle our boy who was 2 years old and the girl who was 1 year old at that time into our little blue Chevy hatchback. We will take along black household trash bags and our regular laundry basket. There was no need for nets, nor hook and line.

Portugal cove nearest to our home was about one and half hour’s of leisurely driving along picturesque, windy country roads. It’s like living in a postcard.

When we arrived, we parked the car at the top of the cliff and walked a short distance down to the beach. There will usually be other people already gathering to welcome the caplin’s arrival.

Slowly the sky darkens and the sun disappears behind the hills. The sun sets at around 10 o’clock in the summer. Soon it will be dark except for the light of the full moon.

All of us, mostly families with children, looked out to the sea in great anticipation. The winds were mild at this time of the year and the surface of the sea rippled gently. The waves tip toed ashore, almost politely, as if they were afraid to make a noise.

Soon we will see, out in the distance, clouds of black blotches bobbing out in the sea’s surface. These black patches will gradually come nearer and nearer to the beach. As the dark blotches drew nearer, we could see under the moonlight that they were beautiful silver fishes. Their slender bodies glistened in the moonlight and light from our torches.

The people will roll up their trousers and wade out excitedly to meet the caplin like old friends, but armed with their laundry baskets. The caplin continued to swarm towards the beach, oblivious to the presence of the people. We will wade to knee high water. The caplin will be squirming and thrashing under our feet, and all around our ankles, shins, calves, knees and thighs. You will feel like the fish giving you a massage.

People will start scooping up the fish with their laundry baskets, then wade ashore, heaving their heavy baskets and transferring their catch to trash bags and pails. The next thing we realized were the sudden blooms of yellow among the dark patches in the sea. Soon, the entire sea surface along the shoreline will be a yellow sea.

The heavily ladenned female fish had just released their golden eggs.

This was followed by bursts of milky white in the sea. Soon all the yellow was enveloped by the sperm released by the male caplin.

Usually, we would have gathered our fill of caplin in our trash bags before the fish released their egg and sperm.

We would then stand back and watch in awe and wonder at nature’s miracle before us. After about an hour, the fish will be exhausted and will be washed onto the sand by the gentle waves. They will lie on the sand, barely twitching, taking their last breath awaiting their journey’s end without protest – as if satisfied that their life’s mission had been accomplished.

Gradually, the black sand, gravel and pebbles on the beach will be completely covered by yellow caplin eggs. The golden sand was actually a carpet of caplin roe.

We would then load the fish and children back on the car and return home. It will be a long night ahead.

That night we would gut and scale hundreds of male fish, one at a time. Fortunately, the female fish need no further work as we would keep them with their eggs. The fish will be packed into zip lock bags, the type people used to pack their lunch sandwiches. We then stacked the bags of caplin in the freezer. In one night, we would stock up weeks of fresh fish – a gift from nature.

Now you know why, I dream of catching fish whenever I enjoy my durians.


Yesterday, while working on a video project with a colleague, Jane, I was taken aback by her offhanded remark. Out of the blue, Jane blurted out: “I’m not creative.”

Surprised at her self-deprecating remark, I asked her to elaborate on what she meant. Jane replied: “Oh, I’m just not born creative. Creativity is a special gift. Only a lucky few have it.”

That triggered our interesting discussion on creativity.

I suggested that creativity is less a special gift and more an attitude.

For example, if I spent an entire day thinking about an idea, I am sure to be more creative than if I just spent 5 minutes on the idea.

I believe creativity is a choice. We will be more creative if we choose to be creative, and the reverse is also true. If we choose to be uncreative on the premise that we are not born creative, we are making the wrong choice.

It’s not whether you have it or you don’t. It’s whether we want to be creative, or we don’t.

Jane then wondered: “Can one learn how to be more creative? Can creativity be taught?”

“Oh, most definitely, Yes!” I responded.

There are tools and techniques that one can learn that help you generate ideas. I introduced Jane to the work of two creativity gurus – Edward de Bono and Roger van Oech.

Edward de Bono’s “Six Thinking Hats” system uses role playing for individuals to look at issues from different perspectives.

There is the WHITE hat for detached and objective thinking; RED hat of feeling and intuition; BLACK hat of negative judgement; YELLOW hat of positive judgement; GREEN hat of divergent and alternative thinking; and BLUE hat of process and control thinking.

The individual when thinking about an issue will put on a different hat one after another to examine it from different angles.

Roger von Oech’s Four Creative Roles system also encourages us to shift from role to role when tackling an issue.

First, one looks for new information and spot unusual patterns, like an EXPLORER.

You then generate new ideas by experimenting with different ways of arranging the information gathered, like an ARTIST would.

You next evaluate the ideas generated and decide on its merits, just like a JUDGE.

Finally, you act on the selected idea fearlessly like a WARRIOR against naysayers and other obstacles.

Jane was motivated to be more creative but wondered if it was too late for her: “Creativity starts at childhood, and since I didn’t begun then, I’m afraid it’s too late for me now”.

She reminded me of many examples of people who started creating late in their lives and still accomplished much.

Anna Mary Robertson started to paint in her mid-seventies when she couldn’t knit anymore as her hands were stiff and ached from arthritis. She was eighty when an art collector first spotted her work in a shop window. She quickly won acclaim and became a world renowned artist. Anna Mary Robertson produced 1,600 pieces of work, including 25 in the year she passed away at age 101.

COLONEL Sanders was sixty five years old when he was forced to close down his thriving fried chicken business because a new highway bypassing his diner took away his customers. Instead of giving up, COLONEL Sanders came up with the idea of franchising his fried chicken recipe. He would let franchisees use his recipe and charge them 5 cents for every piece of fried chicken sold. COLONEL Sanders crossed the country in his car to sell his idea while living off his $105 welfare cheque. He was rejected 1009 times before clinching his first deal.

At the end of the discussion, we agreed that EVERYONE IS CREATIVE AND EVERYONE CAN BE MORE CREATIVE.

Some people are more creative because they are strongly motivated to be creative and put in intense creative effort. They developed habits of using tools and techniques of idea generation. Their creative muscles are strong through repetition and persistence.

Visualise Your Success Like Muhammad Ali