"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Thursday, August 13, 2009


[This blogpost has been extracted from my 'Optimum Performance Technologies' weblog.]

I note that success coach Richard Israel, a collaborator of Tony Buzan, shares quite an interesting, but generally broad idea, about how to become an expert in his book, 'Grass Roots Leaders: The Brain Smart Revolution in Business':

1) Pick a topic that interests you, an area in which you would like to become an expert;

2) Then, identify, collate, read & mind-map two books a week on that topic;

3) Review your completed mind-maps frequently to optimise your memory retention;

4) By the end of one year, you would have digested the expertise of at least 100 books, & know more about your chosen topic that almost anyone else in the world;

5) With all the knowledge, you can begin speaking & writing on the chosen topic;

In his book, he has used my good friend & fellow explorer Dilip Mukerjea as a case example.

Dilip had met Richard Israel (also Tony Buzan) in the mid-nineties during which the latter had personally shared his expert strategy.

At that time, Dilip was a marine engineer, who often spent long periods on the sea. Dilip needed a career change.

So, he applied the expert strategy by studying & mind-mapping many books on creativity, leadership & strategy during those long periods on the sea.

The foregoing episode probably explains why Dilip is so good in what he does today as a innovation strategist, in addition to becoming an accomplished author with so far 8 great books to his credit.

Currently, Dilip runs his own strategy consultancy outfit known as 'Brain Dancing International'. He has been highly acknowledged by Tony Buzan.

To be very frank, I dare to say that Dilip has today surpassed his mentor, who is apparently still dabbling with his old stuff.

I would like to throw in a couple of valuable suggestions, drawn from my own personal & professional experiences, to enhance the foregoing expert strategy:

1) Identify a small number of knowledgeable persons or experts in the field of your chosen topic, & discuss with them about what you have found in your reading pursuits;

[That's how I met Patricia Danielson, co-developer of the 'PhotoReading' technology, after I had brought her to Singapore to teach me & others during the early nineties.]

2) Contribute some interesting articles on your chosen topic to newspapers &/or magazines;

[I was a regular contributor of articles to the Straits Times as well as Business Times during the nineties, in addition to magazines.]

3) Publish & edit a newsletter on your chosen topic;

[I had also published & edited my own subscription newsletter for two years during the nineties.]

4) Set up a training consultancy to share what you have learned with others;

[That's how I started my strategy consultancy & training development outfit, under the trade name of 'Optimum Performance Technologies', as well as a small retail outlet, aptly called 'The Brain Resource', which provided a smorgasbord of books, audios, videos, tool-kits, & other resources "for the other 90% of the brain".]

I would also like to take this opportunity to share another powerful method to help you to enhance your acquisition of expertise.

I had learned this wonderful method from Patricia Danielson as part of my 'PhotoReading' instruction from her during the early nineties.

It's called syntopical reading, which had originally been conceived by educator Mortimer Adler in his classics, 'How To Read a Book' as wells as 'The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon of Great Books of the Western World', during the 50s or so.

As a result, it's sometimes called the 'Syntopicon Method'.

Very briefly, it works like this:

1) Inspection:

- round-up a large quantity of books covering a subject or topic of your interest; I often use the bibliography of my favourite books as a starting point;

- you may even include books, audios, videos, webcasts, podcasts, etc., that are remotely connected to your subject or topic, but you want them to be included as a eclectic mix, just for the purpose of stimulating your creativity - the idea is to stimulate the brain from both the difference/similarity of seemingly unrelated pieces of information or ideas;

- you may also include newspaper clippings &/or magazine articles &/or newsletters;

- quickly scan or skim through the books, resources, etc., & do your best to locate relevant passages in the books or other resources that are most germane to your needs;

[Now, you know why I love 'PhotoReading' so much; According to Mortimer Adler, it is you & your concerns that are primarily to be served, not the books that you are reading.]

2) Assimilation:

- jot down all those relevant passages that pique your immediate interest or curiosity;

- as you read further, develop your own terms of reference;

- make an attempt to bring as many selected author's passages to terms with each other, hopefully meeting your own terms of reference;

- this often involves not only finding the important words &/or vocabulary to the subject or topic, but also finding a common vocabulary among the many authors;

- according to learning experts, sometimes this can only be done by inventing new words or vocabulary by yourself

[Edward de bono & R Buckminster Fuller have been well-known to be great creators in this respect];

- the whole purpose of this exercise is to create a new synthesis of ideas or concepts from your varied reading, instead of just an analysis of the topic from a single book; also, to push & engage yourself in active exploration of the subject or topic by considering a myriad of inputs from many different authors;

3) Question(s):

- identify or formulate the key question(s) that come to mind, as your probe further with the view of extracting important insights to the subject or topic you are pursuing;

- you can use the journalist's questions as a starting point;

- sometimes they can come from those questions that often bug you at night while you are sleeping;

4) Issues:

- with your terms of reference, selected passages & key question(s) in place, make an attempt to define the major issues or salient aspects of the subject or topic;

- from my personal experience, the objective here is to find all the relevant issues, according to your own point of view, which will gradually takes shape as your probe further;

5) Conversation:

- sit back & analyse the discussion or conversation in your head, as you probe the many authors based on what you have found in your exploration;

- this is, in fact, the most important aspect of the syntopical reading process;

- also, for me, this exercise actually serves as an awakening experience, because you are bringing the key question(s) to the books to be answered;

- your job is essentially to find, hopefully, all the answers from the many author's works, in relationship to your key question(s);

- come to think of it, the answers are in the books somewhere, & all those authors are acting as your consultants, in away, to help in your search for the answers;

For me, the best way to do this 'Syntopical Reading' exercise is to get a large sheet of mahjong paper or butcher paper, & then lay it on the floor, together with all your selected books & resources.

You can start immediately with each author's principal premise, which you can readily find in the prefare or introduction or end-of-book summary or even back cover of each book. Use it as a springboard to build your own terms of reference, & proceed with your systematic probe from there.

Create a large map with the selected authors' principal premises as idea triggers along the outer edges of the paper. Jot down the selected passages as you find them against these triggers.

Gradually write down your key question(s) &/or major issues as you formulate them or as they come to mind in the centre of the paper.

Just be willing to explore, experiment & play with the information & ideas you have gathered along the way as you probe. Nothing is sacred.

For me, spontaneous juxtaposition is the key to this wonderful reading & exploration exercise.

With hindsight, & over the years, I have unconsciously applied Richard's expert strategy without his personal instruction, but I have combined it with the syntopical reading method as described to generate what I am doing today.

They have worked for me, & I am sure they will work for you. All it takes is some hard work from you, plus a little bit of self-discipline.

Thanks to the unknown wise guy who once said this:

"In business or life, everything is possible; it's only a question of strategy & discipline."

No comments: