"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, March 4, 2010


I am prompted to write this post after having watched an old movie from the 70's, entitled 'The Day of the Jackal' on StarHub cable television a few days ago.

The thrilling movie apparently captured one of the many failed assassination attempts on President Charles de Gaulle, during his leadership era of France back in the sixties.

After several failures, a militant underground group, known as the OAS, comprising mostly surviving generals from the French Foreign Legion campaign in Algeria, decided to recruit an outsider - a professional assassin (played by Edward Fox) - to undertake the secret assignment. He demanded US$500,000, half to be paid via a Swiss bank account & the balance after the job was done.

The disgruntled generals had felt betrayed following de Gaulle's granting of full independence to French Algeria.

The assassin's codename was 'Jackal'.

Despite his personal cover being blown, the cunning assassin, who was an expert in disguises, continued his meticulous & methodical preparation, from running across international borders with forged passports & other personal documents, to taking his own sweet time to source for a specially-configured sniper rifle, switched several vehicles, dodged trail attempts by various security authorities, plus "fooling around" with a rich woman, & even a newly acquainted gay friend (unfortunately both ended up dead), as part of his elaborate tactical manoeuvres to prove he was the world's most ruthless assassin.

In a nut shell, the movie was essentially a riveting cat & mouse game, between a cool French police detective, Claude Lebel (played by Michale Lonsdale) assigned to the case, & the elusive assassin on the run.

The anti-climax of the movie at the end of it all was that the assassin failed in his last assignment, but worst still, his true identity remained an enigma.

One particular scene in the movie had caught my immediate attention.

After securing the contract, the assassin adjourned to his hotel room, sat down comfortably in an arm chair, took out his yellow legal pad, & wrote down in a dispassionate manner, as follows:

- How?

- Where?

- When?

Didn't the foregoing questions look familiar?

For newspaper journalists, they are part of their daily working process, known as the 5W1H questioning framework, of preparing a story.

I recall from my secondary school days, during which my English Language teacher often insisted that the framework was useful in clarifying & understanding something already written in more depth.

As a matter of fact, I have found it's an invaluable memory jogger & prompt in writing useful content for a business proposal.

For working professionals, or entrepreneurs, I reckon the 5W1H questioning framework is also an amazing tool for brainstorming & problem solving.

By the way, the other "Ws": What? Who? Why?

In the Total Quality Movement, a parallel tool is often suggested: The 5W or better known as the 5 Why.

That is, you ask 'Why' five times consecutively, with the explicit view of getting to the bottom of the problem.

In other words, to look beyond the obvious causes of the problem to the underlying systemic root causes.

I believe the 5W or 5 Why had originally been popularised by now-troubled Toyota as part of their kaizen activities.

Coming back to the 5W1H questioning framework, it is widely believed that its origins probably came from Rudyard Kipling, whose immortal poem, "The Elephant's Child", goes as follows:

I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
I let them rest from nine till five.
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men:
But different folk have different views:
I know a person small--
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends 'em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes--
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

As you can read from the foregoing poem, it is quite obvious that Toyota probably got their earlier inspiration from it.

I offer the following suggestions to help readers enhance the potency of the 5W1H questioning framework:

1) Extend the questions, by turning the raw single-word questions into question phrases, e.g. how much? why not? what time? which place? who can? where else?

2) Ask a planned sequence of questions, as part of a generative process to develop further thoughts with the view to reach a more complete answer to the problem;

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