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This blog has been designed most for the benefits of my students. I am interested in spiritual intelligence because I believe it leads to happiness and resilience. If you want copies of my published research (conference papers or articles in journals), feel free to contact me.

Ridhwan (

My other blog is:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why do we need softskills?

My son, now 9 years old, asked me why I was writing a blog about softskills. The question, as naive as it may be, is actually quite a smart one.

First, many people seem to think that they can secure a job because they have the right academic qualifications. Over the last 10 years of teaching, I have realized that employers look for three things:

a) A positive attitude
b) Good soft skills
c) Decent academic knowledge

The whole concept of "soft skills" is a bit vague. This includes basic speaking and writing skills, grooming and so forth. That is not what I am interested in. My perception is that many people have these "basic skills" but cannot progress because their overall perspective is negative.

Of course, everybody knows the importance of being "positive". My experience is that "being positive" is not enough. People have to learn specific skills (active listening, cloud diagrams, logical diagrams)in order to "break out" of the constraints that they have created for themselves. However, once people manage to "shift" their perspective, their whole behaviour becomes much more positive. Unfortunately, many of the "motivational" programs on TV or Radio are almost useless. They deal with generalities and do not allow individuals to figure out why their perspective is misleading.

Friday, October 16, 2009


A few weeks ago, one of my 'blog readers' observed that I did not update my blog very often. That is true and it reflects my personal views about blogs.

First, many blogs are written in a hurry. People make assertions without knowing whether they are true or not. As an academic, I am used to writing papers that are reviewed by my peers. In other words, before writing something. I ask myself, "Is this true or is it false? Can I prove it?" Many times, I realize that my opinions are just that: opinions.

Second, I am a researcher. In May, I wrote that I would be interested in using problem solving skills to help parents and teenagers work out their problems. Although I am not a counselor, I have been interviewing students who have problems at home and I try to figure out ways to advise them. My conclusion is that the root cause of the problem often starts with the parents. The 'problematic attitude' of the students is simply a symptom of a deeper problem. However, as this research is still ongoing, I don't want to write about it in my blog (yet) although I can give a few hints:

- Communication problems between parents and teenagers is not about "communication". It is simply about two people that have a different paradigm of the world. Resolving the "gap" between parents and teenagers is primarily about understanding the differences in core assumptions.

- Differences between paradigms are often based on false assumptions about cause and effect. These assumptions almost always include one "negative fantasy" [I don't make up these words. These are expressions that other researchers use]. A negative fantasy is a fear that unless you control something or somebody, things are going to get "out of control". That fear is irrational but prevents people from growing.

By using mapping techniques (such as ECs and CRTs mentioned in my May posting), you can put on paper the assumptions that people carry in their heads. That allows one party (for example, the parent) to understand the other party (for example, teenagers) perspective. Ironically, people need to start drawing pictures before they can start communicating.

People who are familiar with soft skills - whether communication skills, leadership skills or whatever - will realize that this is the most difficult part of soft skills development. The other stuff is really easy in comparison. But unless Malaysians start understanding the paradigms that limit their personal and professional growth, they will continue to feel frustrated.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Playing with matches

Thursday 3rd September. I tried an experiment tonight. I wanted to put across some of the challenges associated with complex organizations. Two issues form the core of problems inside organizations: dependency and statistical fluctaution. To avoid an abstract discussion, I divided the participants into two groups. Each group has to "process" matches by using a dice to move matches from one player to another. This shows that playing with matches can be a good way to learn about management!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Developing Strategic Thinking

Last night, I develivered a series of courses on strategies for MBA students. As strategy is an abstract concept, I used the "Beer Game" to put a few key points across. This is a game that can be used for team-building, appreciating the importance of customer service, developing leadership skills, developing strategic thinking and many more. Like all games used in training, it is the debriefing that matters the most. I attach a few photos of the occasion.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Counselling students

An interesting night the other day. Five students from KUIZ, who were finishing a Diploma in Business, came to my house looking for advice on furthering their studies. My approach is straightforward:
- Decide whether you want a job that is halaal / haraam
- Decide what is your desired lifestyle (routine, travel a lot,.....)
- Decide whether you prefer to deal with people, paperwork or numbers
- Decide whether to do a degree that is specialized or general
We had a good discussion. I discouraged them to do certain courses that have no longer any future and I discouraged them to go for courses that are "hot potatoes" today but with no job opportunity when they will enter the job market.....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Keindahan Islam

Saturday 20 June 2009. I was invited to talk about "Keindahan Islam" for 1 hour and a half. Finding the camp in Gombak was challenging enough but I thought I was going to talk to Management and Science University (MSU) students. It turned out that the audience were 85 PTPL students. I surprised everybody by conducting the whole thing in Malay. My Malay is okay but I normally only use it with family members or close friends. This is the first time I actually do a training in Malay. As the topic has the potential to be "boring", I decided to turn the session into a game. I asked two questions and wrote the answers on two pieces of paper. I then divided the group into smaller groups and they had to guess the answers. I then went to group to group and discussed their ideas. I think it worked quite well.

5 STARS leadership

Friday, 19th June 2009. I did a one day leadership skills training for 20 students at Management and Science University (MSU) in Shah Alam. I was very impressed with the group (they even wore ties). We covered the Big Five skills: Communication, Counselling, Goal setting, Circles of influence and Shaping skills. I have no doubt that these students have a bright future with their commitment and positive attitude.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Developing Operational Excellence (2nd edition)

On Saturday 13th June 2009, I facilitated the 2nd workshop in the series of "Developing Operational Excellence". About 22 managers attended. I am now using the Theory of Constraint (TOC) to identify core problems in organizations. TOC assumes that the organization is like a chain. As a consequence, all problems are interrelated. There exist a core problem and everything is a direct or indirect consequence of that core problem. The great thing about TOC is that it is based on understanding "cause and effect". The only real trick is that participants need to think backwards (we go from the symptoms to the core problem). That's all. We focused on two skills: developing CRTs and ECs. These two techniques really help operational people to distinguish the core problem from the many symptoms. One of the groups was particularly interesting. This was an entrepreneur who was trying to develop his business without having to spend extra capital. By mapping his problem, we were able to identify a leverage point. I attach some photos.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Up and coming events

I have two training lined up. One should be on Saturday 13th June. This will be another "Developing Operational Excellence" but with a twist. I will focus on the Thinking Processes popularized by Eli Goldratt. On the 20th of June, I have a program with university students and I will focus on basic leadership skills.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Helping parents deal with conflicts at home

I have developed an interesting activity based on the Evapourating Cloud concept. This is a simple diagram for parents, when trying to communicate with their children, to present their perspective and their children's perspective. It allows both sides to understand what the other side is thinking and it allows both sides to understand each other's hidden assumptions. I plan to use this technique with managers in a training planned in June but the more I think about it, the more I can see it being used to diffuse conflict at home. Come to think about it, it can also be used to get husband and wife to better understand one another.

Friday, April 24, 2009

When does training work?

Over the last couple of days, I had a couple of calls from friends. A question that we were all concerned about: when is training effective?

Research in this area shows that the pre-training analysis and post-training assessment is crucial. In one case in the USA, 2 employees attended the same sales training. For one employee (lets call him Mr. A), this training was part of his development program. His manager discussed his lack of performance and they both agreed that attending a sales course would be important. After the sales training, Mr. A found it hard to apply what he had leant during the training. So the sales manager went on sales call with him and demonstrated some of the techniques. After a few weeks, Mr. A could apply what he had learnt and his performance increased substantially. The good thing was that the manager was able to calculate the cost (sending 1 person) and the reward (extra sales), which makes evaluating the effectiveness of training quantifiable.

A second employee - who attended exactly the same event - had a very different mindset. Lets call him Mr. B. The training was originally supposed to be for another employee but he could not make the training at the last minute. As the company had already paid for one person, Mr. B was told to attend. Unfortunately, this totally destroyed his special weekend that he had arranged. However great the trainer, Mr. B never got into the spirit of the training and never applied the concepts afterwards.

My greatest problem is to explain that training needs analysis (TNA) should be done by the trainer, not by the HR department. After the training (say after 3 months), the trainer should be allowed to meet the trainees and conduct a debriefing session. Maybe becuase of that, many organizations feel that their training dollars are being wasted. In most cases, they are right.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Understanding the training and development (T&D) industry in Malaysia

Here are my views on the T&D industry in Malaysia. There are a few big players and lots of small players who pretend to be big. Everybody I know seems to have their own company and flying solo although they pretend that they have lots of staff on the payroll. Whenever they have a project, they simply call their pals.

Training activities tend to focus on skills. Pretty everybody does the same thing but some try to sell the idea that they know something other trainers don't know. This is of course not true. Everybody pretty much knows the same thing.

Development activities tend to focus on developing knowledge. Lets say that you are a company and one of your key technical managers doesn't know anything about strategy. One solution is to hire somebody (like me) and go through a tailor made course so they develop useful knowledge for the company.

My approach is based on Action Learning. I get people to talk about what they experience at work and we talk about how they can do things differently. It's not "telling them" what to do but it is more about thinking about alternative solutions to try out.

The biggest area for growth in the T&D industry is probably going to be parents. Parents are spending a fortune to send their kids to universities and they end up being unemployed. Their lack of employability generally boils down to insufficient communication skills and insufficient problem solving skills. I have always dreamt of finding 10 rich parents so that I can coach their kinds through university.....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Developing Operational Excellence

Another training was held in Sungai Congkak on 12th April 2009. The participants included 21 executives and managers. The theme was "Developing Operational Excellence". The group divided into four smaller groups and focused on different operational issues of their choice (branding, market segmentation, matching jobs with skills and managing concurrent projects). The aim was to identify solutions and find ways to communicate these solutions upwards.

As usual, listing problems was easy but quite a lot of digging was necessary to identify possible root causes. An interesting thing happened: in small groups, the discussion was very focused and very specific. But in the group presentation, everything became vague and general. Moral of the story: presentations to the larger group is not always helpful. A few photos tell the story!

Another soft skills session