I kind of miss President Obama. His eloquence. I’m reading a book “The gift of the Gap – how eloquence works” by David Crystal.

Danny Yung’s Tian tian xiang shang 天天向上 exhibition at Raffles City, Singapore. Photo by me. Phrase means daily self improvement. Always looking up.

Another great book which I will review soon is “Talk like Ted” by Carmine Gallo; on the art of Storytelling.

Back to Crystal’s book. He describes Structure as essential to a good speech, using strings of pearls to connect ideas.

Obama’s victory speech in 2008 had an effective 41 words and 4 word punchline.

If there is anyone out there
Who still doubts
         That America is a place
          Where all things are possible
Who still wonders
          If the dream if our founders is alive in our time
Who still questions the power of our democracy,
Tonight is your answer.

Parallelism with “who still”. Chunking works with your telephone number and with speech.

Shakespeare invented it first. (All literature students know its called poetry. You have it in most cultures. Including Chinese and Japanese.)

Power of threes and fours.

Churchill used it.

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
In war: resolution
In defeat: defiance
In victory: magnanimity
In peace: goodwill

More than four, opines Crystal, the sequence loses its unity. And rhyme, I add.

Order, order, order
Before and after

☆Campaign, problem, challenges, new dawn
☆From the general and abstract, to the particular and concrete.
☆Invite the audience by repeating a catch-phrase; several times. Eg Yes, we can.
☆Appeal for action

This is our chance to answer that call.
  This is our moment
   This is our time

To put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids
To restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace
To reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth

    That out of many, we are one
     That while we breathe, we hope

And where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us
That we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people. YES, we can

☆Obama’s word on dream links in spirit Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.

Political eloquence has its critics. Lloyd Bentsen, criticising the Ronald Reagan administration, using alliteration:

America has just passed through…… an eight year coma in which slogans were confused with solutions and rhetoric passed for reality.

For more pearls, gems and precious insights, read Crystal’s book. He’s a Professor of Linguistics and broadcaster, amongst many literary achievements.


In “So you have been publicly shamed” by Jon Ronson, p102, he cites the famous Stanford Prison experiment and interview by Dave Eshelman, the “evil guard”.

Dave explained his actions saying that the first night was boring. “So I thought I’d get some action going”. In his mind he decided to channel sadistic southern prison warden Strother Martin from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” which he had just seen. “I thought I was doing something good at the time.”

Doing something good.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. A quote by one of my lecturers in political science at INSEAD.

Somehow this quote haunts me today as it usually does, after a class teaching ethics.

In his book, humorously written, Ronson provoked the thought of people who do evil, under the impression that they are doing public good. Think online shaming.

Many investigative journalistic stories especially the one on female developer Adria Richards vs Hank, where she publicly called out on a group of guys at the PyCon conference for not being respectful to the community. He lost his job as a result. The online trolling community attacked her company and she lost hers as a result…. The downward spiral had its rippling effect.

Chinese historian Shima Qian who compiled 史记 in 86BC, concluded that while those who do evil will suffer evil. Those who do good may not necessarily be rewarded.

He did not elaborate. But I suppose that we need wisdom while doing good. The good you do may not really be good.

Life is like a camera

Focus on what’s important
Capture the good times
Develop from the negatives

If things don’t work out,
Take another shot.

(Seen outside Victoria’s Cafe in Lake Taupo)


Photo source credits: Himself taken at Lake Taupo


Art connector, National Gallery, Singapore

We are people of tribes albeit moving in different costumes.  The size of our tribes differ. It can be huge, such as national level, right down to the family level. In the space of work, we behave as tribes in an organisational culture.

Every organisation has an internal environment, known as the personality of the organisation. A system of beliefs, norms, values and attitudes shared by members of an organisation – communicating to new members the correct ways to think and act;  “the way we do things around here”. Usually the unspoken is more powerful than the spoken. Much has been written about Enron’s cowboy and toxic culture, yet on its website its Vision and Values brazenly state that the company is about Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.

For young careerist, its important to understand the organisation culture of the firm you’re entering. Factors such as management style, size, type of business, ownership, strategy, structure and technology influence a team’s culture.

Johnson uses a cultural web framework to observe a company’s culture. The cultural web is made up of:

Routine – the ways that members of the organisation behave towards each other and towards those outside the organisation and which make up how things are done or how things should happen.

Rituals – the special events through which the organisation emphasises what is particularly important and can include formal organisational processes and informal processes.

Stories/Heroes and Superstars – told by members of the organisation which embed the present and flag up important events and personalities, and typically have to do with successes, failures, heroes, villains and mavericks. Now older and wiser, I see that heroes in a particular culture somehow seem to possess certain characteristics and what is celebrated as success.

Symbols and language – such as logos, offices, cars, titles, type of language commonly used which become a shorthand representation of the nature of the organisation.

Power structures – the most powerful individuals or groups in the organisation which may be based on management position and seniority but in some organisations power can be lodged with other levels or functions. Microsoft employees for instance are known to be  competitive, self-assured. Yet possess an ability to switch sides. This is very unlike IBM’s cohesive, mutually supportive team structure.

Control systems – performance measurement and reward systems on what is important  – for example, stewardship of funds or quality of service.

Organisation structure –  power structures and decision-making

Paradigm – of the organisation which encapsulates and reinforces the behaviours observed in other elements of the cultural web.

Organisation cultures affect how decisions are made, rewards are dished out, resources shared and relationships are forged.

There are several useful frameworks to examine the cultures of organisation such as Handy’s 4 types of Culture, Deal and Handy, as well as Peters and Waterman Framework among others.

1. Monkey Business by John Rolfe and Peter Troob
2. The Vogue Factor: Inside Story by Kirstie Clements

Enron: Smartest guys in the room
Barbarians at the Gate (Fall of RJR Nabisco)


I’ve heard them say that Chang’an seems like in a game of chess,
A hundred years of world events have caused unbearable pain.
The palaces of the noblemen all have their new masters,
Civil and military dress and caps are not like those before.

Du Fu, Tang Dynasty poet



Recently I found myself very interested in the lists on LifeHack especially lists such as 10 things successful people do before breakfast. Soon I found various versions of such lists put together randomly by people. Although I appreciate the lists, I wondered on what basis each person created those lists. At around that time, I chanced upon this book by Amy Morin. Her 13 items are listed here:

After finishing Ch1 and Ch2, I felt I needed to write a blog entry because this is a book that several years from now I want to read again but may have forgotten the title. Unlike the LifeHack lists, Amy is a professional therapist. Her writing comes from real experience of having to pick up pieces of her life having lost mom and husband within two weeks of the other. She also shared stories of patients/ clients whose experiences, I could somehow relate to in my life.

In Chapter 9, “They (Mentally strong) don’t resent other people’s success”, Morin cites a 2013 Study entitled “Envy on Facebook : A Hidden Threat to Users Life Satisfaction ” explains why some people experience negative emotions while browsing Facebook. Researchers discovered that people felt the most anger and resentment when their  “friends” received a lot of Happy Birthday wishes on their birthdays. Frighteningly the study concluded that those who experience a lot of negative emotions while browsing Facebook experience an overall decline in general life satisfaction. (Talk about a double whammy).

Morin advises “Focus on cooperation rather than competition”. Another story she told was how Milton Hershey’s employee HB Reese began another candy company in the same town. While still working in the chocolate factory, Reese used the knowledge he’d gained from Hershey’s to invent his own candy, the peanut butter cups. Although Hershey could have easily viewed Reese as a competitor stealing away customers, he instead supported Reese’s business ventures. The two remained on good terms.  After their deaths the two companies merged which could have ended quire differently had they not cooperated.

Morin advises:

  • Create your own definition of success.
  • Practice celebrating other people’s accomplishment

She provides another story of how a coach in the US Olympics hockey team  looks for players who could work well together and not one player attempting to steal the spotlight.

Isn’t this true of today’s corporations where team work is necessary as we need the diversity of talents.

I think that every parent, leader, teacher, coach should read this book. Our young people today are subject to so much stress from everywhere that we need to be mentally strong for them.  Even those very familiar with self help books. Her research and practical advice will help anyone keep the faith!

If we are happy to see film stars, rock stars and sports stars receive astronomical incomes, shouldn’t we also be willing to see ‘celebrity’ CEOs rewarded in a similar way?

This was the question posed in class for debate.

Should everyone be paid a minimum wage? Intuitively, it sounds appealing for me who feels strongly when I see old folks picking up used cans and cardboard boxes for recycling to make a few cents.

But here we are talking about people who are paid millions. And a reminder of a wikipedia post of a certain CEO of an American bank who paid $1,000 for a wastepaper basket. (Not with his own money.)

Arguments in favour of high salary for CEOs:

Companies that pay for high-priced executive talent usually get better results—and the money they pay these executives is a good investment.

The quality of a company’s CEO is the single biggest driver of its financial results. Since Bob Iger took over Disney in 2000, he almost doubled the company’s value, creating $50 billion in shareholder wealth. Steve Jobs did not persuade Tim Cook to take on a $1 salary, and many credit Tim Cook for successfully getting the iPads to the stores on time.

CEO salaries are rising because more companies realize the value of good CEOs, and their pay—much like contracts for top-tier professional athletes—is getting bid up.

Arguments against astoronomical salary of CEO

Star athletes generally have exceptionally rare skills that are honed over a lifetime of practice.

The rarity of that skill that drives the demand and value of their services. What is often lost in analyzing athlete compensation is the value creation that is tied to those rare skills.

People are happy to pay up to experience the best; and this is true in sports, music, literature and most other fields. Athletes command high wages because they are the centerpiece of both production and demand in multi-billion-dollar businesses.
Question is if the CEO has a rare skill like an athlete or if he is a coach in talent management, bringing the best out of his team. What about CEOs who bankrupt their companies?

Should we attribute those to external circumstances such as the economy or to the “pursuit of high risk, high returns” ventures?

The question is really about whether the skills of a CEO equally rare? In terms of leaders who are true visionaries, those skills probably are rare. Likewise, the ability to juggle the multiple demands on a CEO’s time, mediate between rivals and ultimately accept responsibility for the direction of a company.

CEOs are a synthesis of athlete and coach. Certainly there is a visionary aspect to almost every successful CEO, and not everyone is born with that ability. Likewise, some people are simply unable to cope with conflict or to make a high-stakes decision from multiple options. Those would all seem to be innate traits akin to a star athlete.

Like the performance of a star athlete, would a CEO be interested to invest in long-term capabilities building of the organisation rather than on-site personal brand-building behavior?

For this, perhaps a balanced score-card model on measuring performance would be a consideration.

Would you watch a performance if your favourite star is in it? Even if it bombs in the box office? Many would. Then some argue that the snapping of star CEO would guarantee box office in the eyes of stock analysts. Paying good money would seem worth it. What do you think?


Nakervis, Alan