Sunday, August 29, 2010

Advice on MCF

I received advice from a friend from Penang during the merdeka rapid not to criticise MCF. I did not have time to answer properly so I'll answer here.

I made a stand on what I will accept in a partnership and what I will not. I will not accept backstabbing as a MCF norm and an alliance that leads nowhere. I do not want to look back after a few years of hard work and see that we have built nothing. That we are still in the same place.

I told another friend this. When people still care, one of the byproducts is sometimes anger. Think on this. What do you do when you no longer give a damn?

But I criticise openly. I do not hide and hit out in the dark. The purpose is to look at our weaknesses in order to improve. I have no personal animosity towards anyone in MCF. I still maintain cordial relationships on a personal level.

But I will not work with them under those terms. Why should I? Why should I repeat the same mistakes that have been practiced for so many years and that have produced so little results.

In my evaluation we have made good progress in our ability to host tournaments but little else. We need to think with congruence and synergy. What about our development programs? Our piecemeal approach is not taking us anywhere. So in that sense MCF has failed.

We need to learn to work in partnership and not tear down one another. We need to be result and not ego driven.

So thank you for your advice my friend from Penang but this will remain my stand. I will work in partnership if MCF can give assurances that the fiasco behind Asean is put to rest. That they understand what it means to partner but not otherwise.

Merdeka Rapid

Mark and I are back from the one day rapid tournament yesterday in Mid Valley and as usual we found loads to talk about. I always feel blessed when I interact with our National Juniors. I find a spirit there which I do not find in many other places.

I think that spirit comes from healthy competition... When minds come together to solve a problem and in doing so share knowledge.

This is what I see. When you believe in yourself you share. Why? Because you trust yourself, you trust your mind. By sharing knowledge you learn also and you will find that others too will share in return.

I said this to Mark. Confidence is very elusive. You may be confident until your first loss. But you must not lose heart. When you are confident you share, when you are not confident you must also share or you will lose that confidence. When you become afraid, start to think you are not good enough and start to withdraw, then you are on the road to failure. In your mind you have already lost.

You can see this in competition; healthy and otherwise. Unhealthy competition produces frustration, anger and bitterness.

Healthy competition produces a freeing of potentials. By the way that is what the word "education" means at its root. Check it up.

Note: As the Merdeka series of tournament continue, try to observe this. You will see both. It is relative of course but the stronger players will exhibit confidence and I believe you will find that they will share to those they believe are serious. And you will also see those that have closed up from fear. Who do you think will have the better potential? The one that sees the cup half full or the one that sees it half empty?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paradox and Chess

You must be wondering what has paradox to do with chess. During our visit to Singapore, we were looked after by a trainer from Spain called Alberto. He was telling us about the different way he would approach training if he were in Spain. The Singaporeans need their certs. So in Singapore it was the paper chase. Sound familiar?

He said he liked my ideas but it wouldnt work in Singapore and from that I think he also meant Malaysia.

Do you see the either/or thinking here? Thinking paradoxically there is a solution.

Do what the majority of Singaporeans want; teach the few that really want to be strong, the way they need to be taught. Why just follow what the Singaporeans or Malaysians want? Doesnt make sense. You were brought in to provide an expertise, a way of thinking that produces world class players. So do both.

When the locals see your superior results from a different approach then more will follow. Then we have change. Both/And.

Friday Reflections

If you are wondering why there has been no posting for a while, I'm taking a short break and catching up with news etc. Anyway will be at the one day event in MV on the 28th.

Here's this weeks Friday reflections. :) Read here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An example of paradox and side musing.

I have been reading the debates between those who believe in "logic" and those who believe in faith. This is what paradox says. In the bigger picture there is no contradiction.

Notice that we are all "thinkers" whether we profess to be people of the faith or not.

It's just that some are better thinkers than others. Better trained. A side argument is that we are created with a brain with thinking ability and emotions. So unless its a mistake of evolution or creation, there must be a purpose for its existence.

Paradox says that we should use both. Both/And. Paradox says it is better to use your best thinking, the more highly trained the better, and when you reach a point when your best thinking does not give you the answers you need, to then use faith.

It's not either/or. Either thinking (logic) or faith. Its both/and. Man is meant to think and to have faith.

It is interesting to see those that argue for faith using their best thinking to convince you that faith is the way to go and then deny that they have thought through their arguments. Don't you think?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

On paradox and contradictions.

This is a huge topic. But let me try to make a stab here.

You see big picture thinking is about paradoxes. It's about both/and. Let me try to give an example here. Lets take the American intervention in Iraq. The Americans considered the technical aspects of war, they did not factor in sufficiently the depth of resistance from the Iraqis, the depth of resistance from their own citizens. And so they didnt see the big picture and evidenced by why they are still struggling to exit now.

In paradoxical thinking, things are both good and bad, good in one instance and bad in another. You can be both happy and sad at the same time. Things can be both bitter and sweet. So paradoxical thinking is hard. Big picture thinking is hard. What to consider and what not to consider. How things work.

On the other hand, operational thinking is about contradictions. It's either/or thinking. Once you have determined the big picture you are either moving towards the end goal or you are not. Contradictions exist only in those terms. Can you see that?

Let me talk a little now about this phenomenon we see in chess. I have heard so many say that chess people are wierd. Actually we are not. The thing is chess is full of technical people, operational people. People who say it's either/or. People who talk about, think in terms of contradictions because that is the way they are trained.

Or put in another way. Their big picture thinking is not big enough.

I think the secret to that GM lies in paradox. Just like the American example I used above, considering just the technical doesnt bring us the results we want.

And so we talk about the operations but we do not share the same big picture. And then we get lost in the forest for the trees.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Creative thinking and innovation.

I just saw a video on Education where one of the panelist was Marina Mahathir. Here. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. In my article here, I talk about big picture thinking and operational thinking in point 2. Maybe I'll expand a little here.

Before we talk about what to fix in our educational system, it is much better to think on what creative thinking is and isnt. What are the conditions that promote and the conditions that hinder? What is innovation really? This is big picture thinking.

If you havent a clue, then how are you going to fix things? Fix what? Fixing is operational thinking. So big picture first, then operational. Otherwise you just end up making a bigger mess.

We have the same problem is chess. First question is what are the characteristics of a grandmaster? Then we tailor our training programs to achieve this abeit not everyone will qualify. We need congruity, not ad hoc, knee jerk, skin deep solutions.

Another clue to what I am saying is found here and here

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Unconstructive chatter

Just started playing bridge again online after a few years of abstinence. Its amazing what you can see going on in the mind as you play. The task was to count the hand, remember the bids, watch out for signals from partner and opponent.

And I find myself chastising my own sloppy play, getting angry with my partner's sloppy play. None of those thoughts were helpful in winning, no? Too much chatter.

Next time you set yourself a task, play a game of chess, observe your mind. Is it totally focussed on the task at hand? Is it focussed on getting the results you want?
Or is it focussed on both internal and external dramas that does not produce results?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

First GM visits Singapore

First GM spent a day in Singapore visiting the Asean chess Academy and the Singapore Chess Federation. Our purpose was purely exploratory and a learning visit. On the day we were first thorougly briefed on their structure and their modules. We were also invited to see their trainers in action. We were brought to see the courses they conduct in schools and in their academy. We also saw how they trained their junior squad and could freely walk in, talk to the students and trainers.

Out of curiousity, I asked them how they prepared for Asean so we have a measure of what our competency gap was. We were told that their National Coach attached to the Federation begins by preparing the data base of their competitors and download their games and then passes this information to the respective trainers of their National Squad. One trainer for 4 to 6 players. The trainers then go through the preparation with their respective players and later accompany the players to the tournament, where they give continuous guidance.

Impressive. It does look like we have a way to go to give our own kids that kind of support.

Their weekly training program for their National squad also encourages continuous progress out of International competition.

At the end of the day First GM did an evaluation of the visit. Our opinion is that their system may not be perfect. I didnt see a strong approach to mental coaching. First GM believes that ultimately strong chess players are about character. That mental fortitude to take the next step in the face of gruelling challenges as we climb up the mountain and the mind is crying out to give up.

However they have a structure to support this when that need is recognised.

Another positive note was their willingness to share information so that we can make informed choices and decisions. We were shown their modules, fee structure, the forms parents are required to fill in etc.

I had an interesting exchange with Ignatius on the visit. He asked if it will be bad for First GM to visit Singapore. I told him the answer is No. I referred him to our Vision and philosophy. Read here.

First GM is about getting results. Just like Singapore who seek trainers from overseas, we too will look for knowledge to help our kids. And we seek genuine partners in our endeavour. Smart partnerships.

On the visit to the Federation we were informed that they have their own building and they raised their own funds to build it. This gave us a glimpse on what results we can expect should we decide to enter into a partnership with them. What results we can expect in 5 years, 10 years etc. We think it is something worth considering. Their ability to share knowledge is in our mind a strong plus point in their favour.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thinking skills

For me the basis for many things must be reasoning, thinking skills. Lets think about this today. If we have a community, a partnership, we can only move forward if we can reason. There are valid and invalid conclusions based on logic. Read here. And here.

Remember logic is only a process. Whether the argument is sound or unsound is based on our underlying assumptions. But at least there is a process to the reasoning. We cannot progress in community or partnership if we cannot reason. Even if I base my arguments on unproven assumptions, we can still agree to disagree so long as we understand what the thinking process is. And eventually when the assumption is proven or disproved we can move on.

But if we cannot reason, we have no hope in hell of ever understanding one another. Everything becomes hit and miss. That is how important thinking skills are. And chess can give us that. Can give us the tools to progress.

Chicken or the egg?

The issue is generosity of spirit.

Shortly after forming the company with Dato Hisham, I was offered a position to join Mr Yan in Syuen. So I consulted Dato. Dato told me to take up the offer. It was a fantastic opportunity to deepen my understanding of how the construction industry worked. And I only got to know Yan because his people tendered for one of Dato's projects.

Dato didnt feel I would be disloyal to him by joining Syuen. It was all about understanding our business. In fact we continued where we left off after my time with Syuen.

To me that is a fantastic expression of self confidence. So my question is, is that type of self confidence a product of getting results without the shortcuts? Can that generosity of spirit exist without this type of confidence? Which comes first, the results or the generosity of spirit?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Just what is chess really?

We generally agree that chess is a mental sport. But what is a mental sport? I see chess as a game that involves decision making. I make a decision on the board and then you make a decision.

It is also a game of problem solving. I set you a problem and then you set me a problem. So its also about finding solutions.

So what are the natural enemies to decision making? I think it is negative thinking. Seeing the cup half empty. When you are negative, you do not make optimum decisions. This evidence is borne out in the game of chess.

The other enemies are emotions of impulsiveness, impatience, anxiety, anger, fear; the strong negative emotions as well as the strong "positive" emotions like excitement, exuberance, euphoria etc. This evidence is also borne out in the game of chess.

Decision making is also about good thinking skills. How to examine the evidence, how to select what is relevant and what is not. How to understand comprehensively, to weigh evidence and then to come to valid conclusions.

In short its about finding solutions on how to move forward in the face of ever changing circumstances. And the expression of our thinking is demonstrated by how we move our pieces on the board.

So, how come we dont teach these things? How to identify negative thinking. How to identify the ruling emotion. How to identify valid and invalid conclusions?

After all, every move/decision we make will be a reflection of all these factors.

The need is to make good decisions before the act, not review bad decisions after the fact only to repeat them again and again. It is about learning how to make good decisions in the moment.

Role of Team Captain plus plus

Jimmy talks about the role of Team captain here.

Earlier he questioned the line up for our representation in Olympiad. Read here. Let me add my two cents worth here.

I think our selection criteria should also make it a condition that only current active players in Fide rated tournaments should be part of selection process.

Furthermore the players representing the Country should also commit to playing certain National Tournaments in Malaysia. Many dedicated players do not have the opportunity for this exposure. So at the very least give them a chance to play our Malaysian contingent when they come back. Give those left behind a chance to learn something too. Then we are optimising our opportunities and making the investment count.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Characteristics of mental strength

A friend SMSed me last night and said all 3 of my mentors stayed cool under pressure and asked how do we get our kids to do that.

To be sure they were all complex men and each were Captains of their Industry. But let me try to find a common thread here.

The first is of course their indomitable fighting spirits. They were also all problem solvers and doers.

So why didn't Dato Hisham go to the meetings with me when so much was at stake. He was building me up. If he had gone, he would have become the player not me. The others would have referred to him and honestly I would also have deferred to his superior knowledge and experience. I made many mistakes. He made time for me, reviewed my decisions and then I went out again and again. Bruised and battered but learning.

As for Dato Hisham's comments about not talking about my problems and worrying, the point is this. Mr Yan put it best to me. Shortly after I was appointed Corporate Director, I went to Yan and said again I had a problem. Yan looked at me and said, "Raymond, dont come to me with problems. You go out and find the answers and then come back to me with 3 carefully considered options/solutions. We will then review and see which is the best one and implement that".

But they were also "humble" men. They were not afraid of arguments/challenge in the search for answers. And they were not afraid to look at places other men feared to look.

In short they had character. Now in chess, we have this wonderful opportunity to teach our kids. You see, that type of character was formed in the fire. In chess we can short cut this. For in chess, the players have to look at their thinking and accompanying emotions move by move, game by game and tournament by tournament. They can have endless practice until they get it right.

I believe this tool can raise even bigger mental giants if done right. You see, if it is done right, our kids will also have learned how to be cool under pressure for during the course of this training they will have attained carefully prepared goals, gain in real confidence. They will know how to attain results.

On training

I notice that many readers like this article. So here it is again. Read here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The ultimate Coach

The man that taught me most about life, dignity and self worth was my late partner Dato Hisham Albakri. He was a giant among men. He was the architect for among others, PWTC, Pan Pacific, National library, Bank Bumi HQ etc. He was also the man that taught me how to grow up.

Some stories.

One day I got to his house as he was returning from golf. And he had his golf bags in the boot of his car. I volunteered to help him take his bag into the house. He brushed my hands away and carried his own bag grunting, "this is not your job". I think there was another message there. A man carries his own load.

Early in the partnership, I was preparing a contract and wanted him to give his agreement to the terms. He sent it back to me many times with notes to relook at certain aspects. In my exasperation I finally called him up and pointed out that the contract had been vetted by 3 different lawyers. He said this to me, "Raymond, dont talk to me about lawyers, use your brain".

When I was invited by Star Cruises to form the Consortium, read here, I felt outgunned by the Consortium members, WTW Lehrer was part of a fortune 500 company and they had a strategic adviser flown in from overseas to take part in the negotiations. I was dealing with the CEO's of public listed companies and the CEO's of our largest interior construction companies. There were marine architects from America, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Not to mention negotiations with the full board of Keppel and senior management of Sembawang (the ship yards). While I had the full backing of Kumpulan Artikek and use of their resources, Dato never once attended a meeting with me despite all my appeals to him.

But he gave me all the time I needed from him personally, day or night, in his house or in the office. We had many heated arguments. Some notable exchanges.

"Dato, this is my problem....." His reply, "Raymond, dont tell me your problems, if I was to tell you mine, this conversation will never end."

"Dato, I am worried about....." His reply, "Raymond, if you are worried, quit business"

I didnt appreciate his words then and was angry with him for much of the time. But today I know the true value of what he did for me. I have modelled my own coaching philosophy from his example and I hope that it will bring benefit to others.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Need to move away from all cheap tricks.

I had a discussion with Mark this morning about some openings and we spoke about cheap tricks in particular. You see cheap tricks work against the inexperienced and the frightened. As you move forward, you'll find it doesnt work anymore. Cheap tricks rely on manipulation, lies, half truths, obsfucation etc.

It is not based on understanding. As you approach mastery level it is understanding that takes you through. Let me use a few examples here.

After Asean, we began to realise, that we were ill equiped to teach our younger kids. I would have thought that would spur us to learn about what teaching methods would be more suitable, what type of teacher would be more suitable? Instead I see another "package" devised that, to my knowledge, has not addressed these glaring weaknesses.

From what I read about the Fide issues, it seems that sponsorship is a big problem. We tried to address that in the Asean training, we spoke at length to MCF and the supplier about what we are looking for to enable us to get long term sponsorship. What the corporates are looking for. And we saw blatant sabotage. We tried to talk about it but was rebuffed. So now are we back to cheap tricks again? Con another sponsor. Get what we want and give no value to them?

This mindset only looks for short term gain. It cannot last the race. These methods are akin to cheap trick openings.

When I built my online business, we went the route of giving value. Of under promising and over delivering. We didnt go the route of cheap tricks for "spectacular" growth but I think we were built to last.

If we can move away from the cheap tricks and quick short term gains, to the detriment of long term growth, I believe the GM will come. And we will have gained in confidence along the way. But first we need to produce a result and keeping the long term goal in mind.

A story of concentration.

The late Mr Arumugam gave me my first big break. I got the contract to renovate his college in Jalan Dang Wangi in the 90's.

We became close friends after that. I remember going with him to negotiate a deal to buy a college. We got to this place in the early morning and were brought to see the college. We had completed our inspection by lunch and so we proceeded to the board room to start negotiations directly after.

We had also requested for a pile of paperwork to authenticate certain matters raised. In this meeting Aru displayed a skill that really impressed me. In the middle of the negotiations he requested for time out to go through the paperwork. So I was left with the task of making small talk while he checked out for over an hour. His concentration was remarkable in the midst of all that was going on.

Later that night, he faxed off a firm offer to purchase the college lock, stock and barrel. All in a day's work.

I dont know many people outside of chess that have that sort of concentration. Do you?

Read this also.