Sunday, July 31, 2011

Playing Active Spectator at OSIM 2011

11-time Ironman finisher, Clifford Lee welcomed me at the Lagoon Hawker Centre this morning on Day 2 of the OSIM International Triathlon. Fellow triathletes, Roger Chow and Le Giang accompanied me at the rails, and we were either snapping photographs of people we recognized, or cheering at friends and strangers. Roger was playing this game of ‘recognise the staff of Oracle’, while I was calling out people on my Facebook account.

I did not participate in this year's Olympic Distance series for a few salient reasons:

1)    The overall number of subscriptions has been successfully increasing annually.
2)    The ride was relatively dangerous with four loops of a tight 10K circuit, comprising newbies and newbies overwhelmed by impatient (and occasionally, verbally abusive) age-groupers vying for a podium spot.
3)    Many newbies did not study their race handbook and were oblivious as to the distance they ran, and number of loops to make.
4)    It is just as fun playing a spectator and photographer, as it is a participant.
A big shout out to fellow triathletes Brian Tan, Victor Chan, CK Poon, Ravi, KK Chin, Bernard Maughan (IMNZ 2006, 2009, 2010), Kume Mika, Winston Koh, and Crazy2Tri (Terrence, Ivan, Andrew, David, et al) for their all-out efforts! This year, the key sponsor OSIM would be giving away an uPilot massage chair to a lucky recipient. I hope that the oldest competitor gets a better shot at earning one. He looked focused, stoked, and eager to complete; hats of him for his true grit! (photo below)
Emcee Ross Sarpani, minus his Australian sidekick this year kept the 10th anniversary of this homegrown event running smoothly and energy high! This is the mark of a race commentator and announcer: making the event as important to the spectator as it is to the participant. Ross interacted with the audience in the stands with songs, dance and impromptu interviews with finishers and spectators.
All the best to those participating in Ironman Regensberg in a week's time: Clifford Lee, Matthew Wong, and Conrad Yeo. Here are snapshots of these tough athletes who braved a hot and humid weather, risky ride,  and choppy swim on Sunday.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

How To Run Faster At Any Age

Here is a compilation of my ‘methods behind my madness’ in one of life’s most natural activity: running. Jogging and the shuffling of feet count as running – avoid letting anybody tell you otherwise.

1)    Run barefoot at times, especially when you forget your shoes.
2)    A few minutes of running is better than procrastination. Weight-bearing exercises like running and walking help our bodies build stronger bone density.
3)    Add an extra kilometre every week. In 52 weeks, you would have theoretically done a minimum of 52 kilometres in a workout (equivalent to a marathon).
4)    Run with other runners to stay motivated.
5)    Run alone to build focus, awareness of your surroundings, and designing your own runs.
6)    Run for fun, or run faster. Seriousness has no place in the pastime called running.
7)    Race occasionally to test your fitness.
8)    Benchmark yourself against your run group, age-group, race, or internationally.
9)    Enlist a coach, who is either still running, competing or was a competent runner.
10) Learn from others: Seek those who have made the most progress recently and learn from them. We can also learn from those who were injured, and recovered.

You can tweak these strategies, or substitute your own. Everyone is a snowflake. We are all truly unique and unusual. There will be moments where we are surprised, or will surprise ourselves. Go for a run!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Captain America: Leading with Values

I just watched the first release of Captain American: The First Avenger in 3D this afternoon. There was a sizeable audience, and I wondered how many adults deliberately took the afternoon off, or played hooky. The three-dimensional glasses sat well on the bridge of my nose, and the visuals were not harsh on the eyes. Avatar was a great movie, however the 3-D feature made my eyes tired. My tickets for today were S$14 a person, twice what a ticket costs for a digital or standard film version – so my expectations were unusually high. Plus, the trailers I watched in recent weeks built up my expectation for a show that had to be comparable to Ironman (same producers).

Without modeling the review styles of film critics, Ebert or Travis, I offer you my homemade review. In a nutshell: Watch the film. It has plenty of action. It answers the question of the protagonist’s/hero’s origin. Personal values matter if you are a hero. Marvel Comic’s Godfather, Stan Lee has a cameo (again, as he did in previous films with his characters). Samuel L. Jackson makes a cameo. Overall, good acting by all lead actors (including the female protagonist). There were adequate action scenes. CGI is kept to a relevant level; mostly on the bright-blue tesseract (a cube in four dimensions). There are enough PG-rated, romantic interludes that may leave you a little heart-broken.

Most comic-book heroes (I’m old school, so sue me) begin with mild-mannered, overlooked, underdogs. However, they are usually people of good heart and head. They surely have something to prove, since they were bullied all their lives. Instead of being sullied by these traumatic experiences, they eventually emerge as the super-hero or the super-villain. No animated series attracts viewership (or readership) if there was no yin-yang, good-versus-evil, plot. What is a good man? How do you stay good? Does good, always triumph over evil?

Leadership Lessons: How often do you take time off to do something outrageous? How often do you engage your sense of adventure? Which values do you stand for? Which was the last heroic deed you performed?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ranking & Your Place In the Universe

How much does ranking matter to you?

Every year, we are exposed to rankings of countries in numerous categories of interest: best airport in the world, safest country, least corrupted country for business, most tourists, etc. Both print and broadcast media play up and leverage on these data, accolades and awards; and countries, committees and communities do challenge these well-intentioned measures if they discover that they pale in comparison to others.

At the workplace, we have performance appraisal and ranking – your chance for promotion hinges on this. If your work is noticed, and you are known as a performer among the managers, you may have a better shot when they do their confidential ranking process. In sports, ranking indicates your performance against others within a race, the sport, and your competitive peers. The processes of peer-ranking and peer-appraisal (especially in 360-Degree Feedback System) can also yield useful information and feedback.

British uber-triathlete, Chrissy Wellington just ranked as the fastest woman over the Ironman-distance in Challenge Roth. She was the fastest woman, broke the world record timing for women, and ranked fifth overall! That means that she out-performed many male professionals in that race. Singaporean 5,000-metre track specialist, Mok Ying Ren was a SEA Games gold medalist in triathlon who excelled in marathons and half-marathons since he made the shift to single sport.

The reason why we race could include:

1)    Motivation to finish a course.
2)    Motivation to complete a physical event for the first time.
3)    To compare our personal performance against previous data.
4)    To gain confidence with each better performance.
5)    To review evaluate our performance, racing strategies, and analyse our results and investment.
6)    To test our physical and mental limits to a new challenge.
7)    Benchmarking our performance against others in the same field.

This two-year-old blog on leadership was #2 on Google Search on ‘Leadership Lessons’ over the last two weeks, and slid down serpentine fashion to top-50, then back up at #2, just behind two major print/online magazines. Realistically, this should happen due to a myriad of factors like SEO ranking and positioning. The more active you are in your content provision, are up-to-date, contemporary, and in your connections (networking) the more likely you will gain a higher prominence. We also moved from relative obscurity to #86 for Leadership Blogs measured against a comprehensive cache of online tools. What these measurements do is encourage us to do better, and provide more useful content to our loyal readers. That is why engagements (comments, feedback, requests) are useful to lead us to where you would like to go.

I did share that I placed three positions off my rankings in running races and multi-sport races over the past year, and I used these results to steer my training and racing strategies towards better recent showings. I evaluated my results, analysed them, and then adjusted my strategies to meet future goals and ambitions.

Leadership Lessons: Be aware of the various ways to raise awareness of your top performers on your team. Help find ways to recognize your team throughout the year. Place them in a place of most potential (as Dewitt Jones stated). Use reference points and guideposts to measure your staff performance, and create new strategies to help them excel. Ensure that each member is more than adequately trained, exposed, experienced and prepared for any conditions and exigencies. Teach them to cook and eat. Life is about experiences that we can relish in!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Working Across Borders

Have you worked overseas? Have you considered how you would enhance your conversations with your colleagues, customers and consumers?

With the advent of the Internet, borders have shifted from physical ones to digital to psychological ones. We talk about ‘border-less’ connections, which means we are closer to somebody than we think we are. With the Six Degrees of Separation, we may be more inter-connected than we think and apply.

Having worked in about 19 countries, I continue to learn about what makes people tick differently and similarly. Differences make for uniqueness, whereas similarity builds familiarity. Finding out what matters to people can be integrated into each conversation you engage in.

Which would be useful skills and competencies when working across borders?

1)    Build courage and confidence with each face-to-face interaction.
2)    Speak to internationals and be inquisitive about their culture.
3)    When you are next onboard a plane, engage in mild conversation with the persons next to you (where appropriate).
4)    Observe how proxemics (distance), touching, and seating arrangements matter at meetings and dining.
5)    Apply values that build rapport and trust such as respect, recognition and reassurance.
6)    Asking questions when you are unsure, and especially when you think you are sure. Calibrate your understanding of people, processes and culture.

Enlist a coach to guide you: in-house, external, business, or career. These facilitated sessions can yield many new perspectives so that you can ‘venture boldly where you have not gone before!’ These coaches are sounding pads, sparring partners and platforms to launch ideas from.

Leadership Lessons: How open are you to travel? How quickly do you build rapport with strangers? How do you dissolve your self-imposed barriers to unfamiliar territories? Which are the unspoken rules when you operate across borders? Does the quality of a handshake, smile and nod make a difference?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Tribe Has Spoken

Those infamous words uttered by host of Survivor, Jeff Probst in every episode decides, ultimately, who will be eliminated for the game. In effect, each member of your tribe gets to vote for the one who they think should be banished from their tribe. By a process of secret ballot - in quasi-democratic fashion – one person will be eliminated, much to their consternation.

Tribes was a phrase coined by marketing guru, Seth Godin in his book of the same name. Gather a group, share a cause and spread the word. You will see it in almost every social media tool – share with your friend, retweet, et al.
Tribes can make or break the strength of a cause. Both brickbats and bouquets are tools of mass distraction and destruction. Careless and callous remarks can influence others, as do partial and preferential opinions. Thinking through the issues and challenging our own thoughts are necessary to ensure that new ideas and innovative practices can emerge during doldrums. Tribes can build a new business, or denounce a well-established one. The connections that tribal members build on are forged through time, shared interests, shared values, commitment and involvement. Leverage on this positively and you can magnify you cause astronomically. Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong yellow wrist-bands are a testament of how tribes rally for a personal and shared cause.

Last weekend, I found out that my friends shaved their heads for Hair For Hope. One-Armed Runner, Adam showed me his bald plate before he ran a half-marathon. This amazing fellow runs in almost every race despite being physically challenged.

Leadership Lessons: How often do you promote somebody’s cause? How widely does your word spread? How much weight do your recommendations hold? How active are you in networking your way through a charitable cause?

Should you want to promote your cause via social media and online marketing, this is a piece on how you can promote your website.

Even David Copperfield, the Maestro in Magic has a cheeky sense of humour. Here, he challenges Harry Potter and J K Rowling. Believe it or not!

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Goals, New Strategies and New Commitments

I have seriously reviewed my endurance training system while evaluating my fluctuating racing results over the past year, and decided to realistically go back to fundamentals. Parallel to this, I have evaluated and reviewed my current training and racing strategies.

Fundamentals include the basics. These are foundational knowledge and applications that can help enhance our capabilities. If we stick to them, we seldom go wrong. Despite calling them the basics, we still need to get them right and execute them correctly. For instance, develop proper technique before speed and be injury-free before performance.

I have worked on recovering from minor injuries due to overuse and weak core muscles. My (first-ever case of) plantar fasciitis is clearing up with my diligence and discipline doing core stability workouts, circuit training and kettle-bell workouts for strength building. I have resumed running on Vibrams Five Fingers (VFF) to strengthen my ankles and soles although I read that Barefoot Ken still thinks that any footwear (however minimalist in properties) is still supported, as your feet do not have a complete feel of the ground. I am still experimenting with his approach of: ‘Start barefoot, then transition into shoes.’

My running is coming on strong, however I have reduced it to allow my riding and swimming fitness to be brought up to speed. My new schedule for this racing season include:

1)    Three rides a week (comprising two higher intensity rides, and one long ride).
2)    Focus on swim-specific drills, mainly on exact form especially flotation, gliding, breathing and sighting.
3)    Include one or two, twice-daily, split sessions for one of the three disciplines.
4)    Observe better nutrition of a natural diet, supplemented with protein shakes and antioxidants.
5)    Train with a fast group or squad once a week (for all three disciplines).
6)    Sleep at least 6-8 hours a day, and earlier.
7)    Race selectively, and select my A-races with more discernment (Bay Run 2011; Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2011; Ironman New Zealand 2012; Boston Marathon 2012?).

How do you put your expensive wetsuit on correctly? Carelessness and ignorance can cost you when you damage it with improper suiting up methods. You may even reduce your cost of using additional accessories just to slip into something ‘more comfortable’.

This is a very good blog by M. Rameshon, Singapore’s current record-holder for the full marathon. You get scientific insights with tacit wisdom and experiences of a seasoned, and still very active and capable competitive runner. He is the coach of some of our fastest age-groupers in the marathon.

Have a good week!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Expertly Evaluating Our Opinions

The study of knowledge is known as epistemology. Certainly, a larger body of study about the knowledge about knowledge itself has been established – however, it is a ‘meta-‘ description it. Knowledge can be out-dated, so we need to up-date it. Applied knowledge works better when our information is current and timely. Failure to act on timely information can lead to disastrous implications, whereas a stitch in time saves nine.

Facts can be corrected; people will correct your facts. Even indisputable laws of physics are only facts, until proven otherwise (as outliers, aberrations and abnormalities are wont to do). Once a wrong assumption has been made, it triggers off a spate of false logic that consumes knowledge to back it up. You may have heard of anecdotal evidence about researchers changing their data to fit their hypotheses. Factual inaccuracies are poor sources of facts. Thus, journalism serves to seek out the truth without impinging on privacy like hacking into private phone conversations and text messages. Another corollary could be the direction that Wiki-Leaks took. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction – or more.

With the operative language of distortion, deletion and generalisation in communication, how much of the news can we trust without being cynical or paranoid?

When you evaluate a process or appraise a staff’s performance, do you do it as a pre-mortem or post-mortem? It is so easy to criticize without adequate facts, and more so when the person does not have a chance to defend their case. Be cautious and mindful when you use Social Media as a platform to air your grievances, air dirty laundry and articulate your thoughts. Some thoughts and opinions are best left to our own privacy. Digital imprints of our ‘verbal sharing’ during our emotional highs and lows can be traced back, and used as weapons of mass manipulation by others.

Instead, be thankful for small mercies. Give feedback and assert your influence when it falls on deaf ears. Catch people doing right, instead of merely ‘in the wrong’!

Your public persona and personality is also measured by how you evaluate others. Are you a fair manager? Do you treat others fairly? How impartial are you when you facilitate conflict at your workplace? Jumping the gun, or making a premature judgement reflects on your lack of observation, interpretation and prejudices.

Mind your head, heart and hands!

Leadership Lessons: When was the last time that you audited your knowledge? How often do you admit it when you are proven wrong? How do you respond to feedback that your facts are wrong?
Congratulations to all the runners who completed the 10K and 21K races of the Marina21K Run! I hoped that you enjoyed your first experience at completing such a distance. I was pleased to see participants at our run clinic show up and run the race. I look forward to seeing you in-person again at other races. Continue to race, when you can and feel you want to, and enjoy this lifestyle that you have designed for yourself!

I enjoyed my stint as a volunteer, mainly escorting the Guest-of-Honour and flagging off the runners. I coordinated the release and withdrawal of the start-off banner, which was a new experience for me – seven times. It was particularly more stressful during the first wave of the half-marathon when the professional runners were inches away from the banner, raring to go. Several Kenyan runners were standing alongside Singapore’s top 5,000m runner and SEA Games 2007 gold-medalist in triathlon, Mok Ying Ren. Even though the prize purse was small for a pro, the air of competition was so thick that you could cleave it with a butter knife. One of these Kenyan pro-runners was interviewed at the start-line by charismatic emcee, Ross who asked him his timing for the 21K. His reply of ‘1:02!’ led to a short burst of awed silence before a resounding and appreciative applause. Somebody uttered in shock: ‘That’s how long it take for me to complete 12K!’ Well put – I concur.
Dennis Quek - my swim-buddy with an infectious positive attitude towards life..
A big shout out to runners from Team Fatbird, Boston Uncle Kor, and friends from Triathlon Family and our armed forces for your positive energy and participation. Tribes and sneezers of the world unite.
Clever wordsmith and endurance buddy, Munn (a few hours fresh from his vacation)
Photo-credits: Marathon Mohan (over-130 marathons completed!) & KK Chin - both from Team Fatbird

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wired For Success?

Straighten out a paperclip and you get a piece of wire. With that, you have a new starting point for many new shapes (and applications) you can form. It is so easy to allow ourselves to be limited by fixed structures. Instead, restructure how you look and perceive things. Avoid getting wired by stressful situations.

Wireless is the way to go today. It is an alternative to wired-up, access to digital communication. Digital technology has allowed us to conduct business at the speed of thought.

Fly-by-wire technology in airplanes is the norm. In a typical aeroplane, cables or rods manipulate the control surfaces (ailerons, elevators, spoilers, rudder and horizontal stabilizer. You can see on the wings of a commercial jet, with a cable running from the top front of the plane to the top of the tail. The newer planes use five different computers each receiving different 'feed' from the pilot's controls, and each sending signals to 'servos' operating different surfaces. Besides saving hundreds of kilogrammes in weight, they are much safer, as cables have broken in flight, causing loss of control of the plane. There is also less maintenance for those controls.

Be wired up, not weird.

Leadership Lessons: How wired to your networks are you? Which of your processes are fly-by-wire? How often do you solicit feedback from your team? How often do you maintain and manipulate your processes?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fractals On Friday

‘I find the ideas in the fractals, both as a body of knowledge and as a metaphor, an incredibly important way of looking at the world.’ Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, New York Times, Wednesday, June 21, 2000.

I am fascinated by fractals. I was first smitten by fractals through world-champion magician, Lennart Green who applied it in a few of his amazing card tricks. Fractals are nature’s mathematical anomalies and phenomenon and as such, we can explore them as an additional set of lenses for which to view the world – with a sense of awe, wonder and respect.

A fractal is "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole," a property called self-familiarity. Fractals in nature comprise coastlines, mountain ridges, clouds, snowflakes, certain vegetables and lightning bolts.

Fractal geometry is a new way of looking at the world; we have been surrounded by natural patterns, unsuspected but easily recognized with some training and mind shifting. Think of a mosaic picture, except this time, it is made up of multiple, smaller, copies of itself – that’s the starting point of fractal geometry; a giant Lego ‘brick’ composed of numerous, smaller bricks. The image through the eye of a kaleidoscope is another variation (radiation of the same basic shape/image).

Fold a piece of paper currency in half, then in half again. How many times can you fold that bill until it is impossible to continue? It is a physical law that explains why we cannot go beyond an exact number. Each fold divides the original bill into fractions, which is a synthetic fractal. Lateral thinking exercises involve fractal geometry. For example, cut out an L-shape piece of paper. Now divide it equally into four equal parts. I am sure you will figure this out, and your solution will surprise you!

Having spent the last two months traveling extensively for work and vacation, I was triggered to read Guy Kawasaki’s (we interviewed him in March and did a book review of his latest book, Enchantment) recommended blog about air passengers. You could take this as a tongue-in-cheek approach, or wallow in your next airline experience and edit your observations.

Peggy Goldman writes about the stereotypes on Friendly Planet.
Syndicated cartoonist (of Loose Parts comic fame) and author, Dave Plazek followed up with his graphic interpretation of these airborne, quasi-archetypes – very funny.

Leadership Lessons: How have you utilized fractals at your workplace? How familiar are you with patterns of behavior of people you work with? How symmetrical are we when we comply with rules and conventions at the workplace? How much does symmetry matter when you enforce and live with discipline? How do your little actions add up to the gestalt of your entire being as a professional and a person?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Is Your Company A Learning Organisation?

Really? Is it for real, or all PR talking? Spinning is a skill, and it’s okay to admit that your company puts in a healthy budget toward developing its people, or not. Training and people development investments may be a luxury during hard, economic periods and these amounts get diverted to more important areas that are bleeding.
Peter Senge coined this term in his landmark 1990 book, ‘The Fifth Discipline’ now embraced as a textbook for human resources practitioners, trainers and OD practitioners. Senge clearly explains that in the long run the only sustainable competitive advantage is your organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition. Better, stronger and faster. Move from survive to strive to thrive.

Here is a report on how accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP applies the learning organization through its successful leadership development program.

Today’s paying audience is discerning, knowing their consumer rights from their individual rights. The paying audience has learnt quickly from experiencing disappointments and buyer’s remorse to become more demanding. Today, the concept of rights has extended beyond consumers to humans to animals. We have learnt how to apply what we have learnt, ensuring that we continue to get quality and value for money.

Consumers can express their concerns yet there are sensible and reasonable ways to exact their demands, as requests. When we shift from face-to-face communication to the hidden-panels of Facebook, we can rear our ugly side. Freedom of speech becomes mired with emotional impulsiveness that reflect us as lowly members of the lynch mob. The mob gathers membership, steam, and momentum and allows others to ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes’. Fools suffer gladly. Let us learn from other people’s mistakes and not repeat them in creative ways. Learn, live and let live.
I was surprised with the results of Sunday’s half-marathon. I expected to place in the top-five, a mild improvement from last year’s sixth in the Masters’ category. I learnt that I was first, with the faster runners disqualified because of technical issues; even Poon, who I paced with for the first half of the race, was disqualified due to missing a timing-mat. After Sunday’s race organization falling short of expectations, I was glad there was no mention of an awards ceremony. I would have found it awkward to collect a prize. I earned two personal best times: one for the course, and another for my best 21K finish. I considered it a great training day, where I did not exceed the prescribed distance due to poor marshaling and ignorance of the course. The organizers did apologise immediately after the race, and subsequently provided a solution that was an attempt to right their wrong. We cannot change the past, but ensure the future does not include reckless repetition.

My plantar fasciitis condition is stable after two days of rest, and I hope to recover soon with rehabilitation and strength-training to prepare for my next local long-distance triathlon. I have withdrawn from Ironman Canada, and am focused on marathons for the rest of the year until next year’s IM New Zealand. [Update: I learnt from the emcee, Ros that there was a prize presentation and I was absent during the callout. My mistake for glossing over my performance. Anyway, nice to know that my dry spell may be over.]

Photo-credit: Franxis Yong