Archive for February, 2009

Practical Exercise #15: Ingredients of Effective Group Action

February 28, 2009

Let us go through an exercise of constructing a mental model. To ensure that we follow the wisdom of Gregory Bateson (see previous blog post by clicking here: Q16), we will proceed in this manner: start with data from personal experiences -> discern pattern from the data -> construct mental model including concepts. This scientific methodology is called “grounded theory” because you don’t start at “Cloud 9” but you instead start from the “ground” of experience in the real world.

From your own experiences, what are the ingredients of effective group action? (the question comes from the definition of “knowledge”; click here to see blog post F5)

Get a paper and pencil and please add to my list below:

    physical energy
    access to needed information
    support from outside
    financial resources
    empowering policies
    mental model
    trust on one another
    shared concepts
    common goal
    mutual support
    good procedure
    cash and incentives
    good system
    conducive workplace

    (Please add to the list from your experiences.)

Next, let us cluster them together. Do you agree with this grouping? Are the members in each group similar enough to warrant the grouping? Do the groups make sense to you?


Then, we place labels on the clusters or groups:


VOILA! We now have CCLFI’s expanded KM framework! The entries in green are motivational factors that cut across the tangible and the three intangible forms (see blog post D11):



  • In F5 we learned that “knowledge” is capacity for effective action (I had written on this in the Overview chapter of a KM book published by the Asian Productivity Organization; click HERE).
  • We saw that “know-what” (=knowledge) is not enough; it must be combined with “willing-to” (=motivation); I reported this in a KM conference last year at Kuala Lumpur (click HERE).
  • In F1 we saw that the expanded KM framework overlaps with the intellectual capital framework (Click here to download paper to be published by EADI/IKM).
  • We learned that intellectual capital has three (mostly intangible) components: human, structural and stakeholder capital, but we also saw that “stakeholder capital” and “customer capital” are too narrow, and must be broadened to “relationship capital” that also includes relationships within the organization (reported in our Singapore paper and also in my Overview chapter of the APO book).

A mental model is double-edged: a good one enables you to see the world better, but a bad one is like a blindfold or blinder that allows you to see only a distorted slice of the world.

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Q16- Seeing World Problems: Building(?) on Gregory Bateson

February 27, 2009

We have constructed mental models inside our heads about the world around us, about the people we know, about how things work. Mental models are our mental representations of the real world. Other words that mean much the same as mental model are: assumption, mental box, belief, stereotype, concept, framework. According to Peter Senge, the ability to consciously manage our mental models is one of the five disciplines of a learning organization.


Some mental models work better than others. For example, two decades ago the Soviet Union’s mental model of a national economy is one run through central planning. After seventy years, they learned that central planning does not work. And so they replaced their mental model from central planning to market-based economy: instead of a handful of bureaucrats in Moscow making decisions on the national economy, over a hundred million Russian consumers are now making decisions on what will be produced, and at what quality and price.

According to Gregory Bateson, “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between the way nature works and the way man thinks.”

It is everyone’s task to always revisit and revalidate one’s mental models. We may be contributing to creating or perpetuating problems, big or small; and we can prevent this if we always check our assumptions, concepts, mental boxes, beliefs, stereotypes, etc.

Take the word “private.” What is our concept of “private”?

How does our concept of “private” square with what has been observed and discovered by ecologists about how the real world works? Ecologists will tell you that:

  • Wo/man is part of nature; s/he is part of the “web of life”
  • Everything is inter-related; “no man is an island”
  • An action or project will always have unexpected, undesired or unintended “side effects”
  • Nature is not an unlimited “sink” or unlimited “source”; nature does not give a “free ride.”


A lady demographer friend made a remark I cannot forget: “the sex act is the most private act that can lead to a host of public consequences.” Of course, a baby born will result to a lifetime demand for food, oxygen, natural resources, living space, employment, schooling, public services, etc. contributing to public problems such as resource depletion, pollution, crowding, public expenditure, etc. and also to value creation through services, innovation, etc.

We need to re-examine how our concepts and beliefs square with how nature in fact works. What makes science a successful human endeavor is how scientists keep re-checking and improving their mental models to be ever better representations of the real world.

Failure to continuously learn and improve our mental models, concepts and beliefs will create or perpetuate more problems.

Look at these mental models:

  • A private corporation may be operating a factory that discharges waste water into the sewage system (mental model: “Nature is an endless ‘sink’ “).
  • A dictator or corrupt president, fearing the end of his power, puts his ill-gotten wealth in a secret bank account (mental model: “My and my family’s benefit above everything else”).
  • She recommends disapproval of an office colleague’s proposal, ignoring its merits (mental model: “He cheated once; therefore he will cheat again”).
  • A private individual flicks a cigarette stub by the roadside, starting a forest fire (mental model: “I can do whatever it damn pleases me to do”).
  • A Hamas fighter’s mental model: “God will reward my martyrdom with paradise.”
  • An Israeli soldier’s mental model: “God gave this land to me.”

According to Albert Einstein, “A problem cannot be solved using the same mindset that created it.”

What do you think?

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Limits of the Possible

February 24, 2009

An hour ago, I saw on television the excited faces of young Mumbai children and the rest of the cast of the 8 Academy Awards winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire.” They and winning Director Danny Boyle were being interviewed at Hollywood by BBC. “We are on top of the world” exclaimed one of the young boys. The scene shifted to a crowd in Mumbai cheering and jumping as they saw all these on an outdoor TV screen.

Cast of Slumdog Millionnaire

Cast of Slumdog Millionnaire with Director Danny Boyle (reproduced with permission of

Suddenly, the limits of the possible in the minds of many Mumbai slum children have been breached. You CAN become a Hollywood celebrity. You CAN dream greater dreams. You CAN achieve greater things.

Three months ago, the victory of President Barack Hussein Obama triggered a similar breaching of the limits of the possible among African-Americans and among blacks and minority groups all over the world. The color of your skin is NOT a limit to becoming the most powerful person on Planet Earth. Young black children watch on television the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia, in the White House. The concrete reality in front of their eyes is changing the limiting assumptions at the back of their minds.

The limits of the possible are not out there. Those limits are inside our heads. They are self-inflicted (or parent-inflicted or teacher-inflicted) limits. And this is very important: they limit our seeing, thinking and deciding in a manner we are often not conscious about. They imprison us but we don’t know it.

This morning I had coffee with an economist of a development agency. For many years, he had been practicing and advocating that the political PROCESS of economic reform is as important as the technical CONTENT of the economic reform. Some colleagues do not see what he sees, and so they do not agree with him. Others agree with him, but because their expertise is on technical content, they are hesitant and unsure how to proceed. Traditional economists hesitate to touch the political economy, yet they know from experience that success of development projects depend on political, socio-cultural, personal and other non-technical factors. They are more comfortable working within their familiar mental boxes. The traditional economists are men and women of goodwill and great intelligence, but their own unconscious limiting assumptions prevent them from seeing more fully. The result: continuing low development aid effectiveness, many failed projects, and projects that wittingly or unwittingly strengthen the ills in a recipient country’s political economy.

“Presencing,” (see Q15) sensing the emergent (see Practice #10) and innovation (see D14 and D19) (and our other important decision making) can better proceed if we first learn how to manage our self-inflicted mental boxes.

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Towards Optimum Personal Productivity: Your Peak Work Experiences (Hint #14)

February 23, 2009

Are you unhappy in your job? Was it many months or years ago when you last felt enthused and inspired in your work? Are you thinking of changing jobs? If you answered “yes” you need to step back and take a serious look at where you are and where you want to go next.

Your peak work experiences can tell you many insights about yourself. These are “moments of best fit” between your personal preferences, interests and styles on the one hand, and your organization’s goals, work demands and work procedures on the other hand.

Review all your work experiences since you started working. Select a few experiences when you felt most fulfilled — your peak work experiences. Study each of them. Why did you feel fulfilled? What happened during those few instances that do not usually happen? What factors and conditions both within and outside yourself contributed to your feeling of fulfillment?

These are the factors and conditions that bring out the best in you. If you can recreate them your work will cease to be a chore or a burden; it will be something you will enjoy and want to do. The result will be a more productive you. You will become a happier person.

Try this exercise.

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Your Peak Life Experiences (Hint #13)

February 21, 2009

Let’s recall your most fulfilling life moments and try to learn from them.

Go to a quiet place or wherever you go or do when you wish to be relaxed and quiet. Look back at the ups and downs in your life. Those ups and downs, or those peaks and valleys, have lessons or gifts for you. All you have to do is find them. This time you look at the peaks. Recall a few of the peaks. In each of these most fulfilling moments, recall what happened. What were you doing? being? feeling? What gifts or lessons did you get? What were the outcomes?

Write down your answers for each of the most fulfilling moments in your life before reading further.


From the previous blog post (Q15- Senge’s Journey: from Learning to Presencing?) we saw that for most people, life’s most fulfilling moments are often those times when they are engaged in creative activities. Most people have experienced these happy moments, but they are often unaware that what they went through is a creative process. The result is not always a new physical product like a new culinary dish, essay, DIY cabinet or painting; it can be many other things: a new you, a new relationship, a new idea, a new baby, a new role, a new stage in life, a new enterprise or undertaking, a new breakthrough or solution, a new fruition, a new energy or ambition, a new achievement, a new development in your growing child, a new learning by your student, a new self-image, a new surrounding, etc.

What gifts did you receive from your most fulfilling or peak life moments? What do your peak experiences tell you about what you are most happy creating? Do you think you can repeat them?

Give this exercise a try.

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Q15- Senge’s Journey: from Learning to Presencing?

February 19, 2009

After two of CCLFI clients in the Philippines decided to become “living, learning organizations,” I was pleasantly amazed at how far the influence of Peter Senge’s concept of “learning organization” (LO) has reached. Today, I stumbled upon a 2001 OECD study on “Cities and Regions in the New Learning Economy.” Wow!

The concept of LO did not solely originate from Senge. It was a concept that has been talked about before 1990 by other experts such as Chris Argyris, Donald Schon and David Bohm. 1990 was the year when Senge’s bestseller book came out: “The Fifth Discipline: the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.” Senge also borrowed ideas from Forrester, Meadows and their colleagues at the systems dynamics group in MIT of earlier “Limits to Growth” fame.

The concept itself is a pregnant one, for it leads to new ways of looking at organizations: that organizations are like living entities. Organizations learn and adapt. They evolve and mutate. They are not like machines that need mechanics, fixers and top-down Taylorist managers; they are more like plants that need nurturing gardeners.

Not all experts agree. For one, David Garvin decries those who see “learning… as a New Age phenomenon, whose goal is releasing human potential rather than improving the bottom line… [whose] discussions of learning organizations have often been reverential and utopian” (see his book “Learning in Action”).

I agree with Garvin that the five LO disciplines are remote from the bottom line. His definition of a LO is more business oriented and practical, which fits well in the context of the Harvard Business School where he teaches. However, I think business is not the only area of application of LO concepts.

Lest “learning organization” remains a “Cloud 9 concept,” Senge and his colleagues came up with concrete tools four years later (see “The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization,” 1994).

Despite the criticisms, I think the fundamental basis of LO is solid. Garvin looks at managing behavior and performance (external view) while Senge looks at the mental models that determine behavior (internal view). In the words of Senge, “the central message of The Fifth Discipline is… that our organizations work the way they work, ultimately, because of how we think and how we interact.” The two views actually complement each other, and a mix of the two should be best in real world situations.

Frederick Taylor’s view of organizations is linear and straightforward. It fits well in managing factories that are basically extended machines. However, 21st century service organizations where knowledge workers rather than machines create value are more complex entities. We are just starting to learn how to manage these entities, thanks to Peter Drucker, Peter Senge and a new breed of management gurus. The next book by Senge’s group (“The Dance of Change: the Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations,” 1999) reflects the difficulties faced by this new breed. It was around the same time when a group of management theorists and practitioners assembled at the Harvard Business School and debated on the fixing/mechanic-versus-nurturing/gardener polarity (or the Theory E versus Theory O; see Beer and Nohria’s “Breaking the Code of Change”). After reading the interesting debate I reached the conclusion that it is not an “either/or” choice but more a “both/and”.

The learning process in organizations is one of the features that distinguishes the two viewpoints.

The process of organizational learning and the nature of human knowledge are two great issues at the root of the amusing confusions among practitioners of organizational learning and knowledge management. The book “Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future” (2004) by Senge and his colleagues at the Society for Organizational Learning raises a third great issue: the human process of innovation.

From our workshops in 1999 CCLFI discovered that the most fulfilling moments in a person’s life are of four types, and for some deep and unknown reason, all the four types are fundamentally creative moments. People are happiest or most fulfilled when they perform or participate in a creative process. We are not sure why. Csiksczentmihalyi, after studying these creative moments, observed that the person’s experience is like forgetting one’s self in a process he labeled as “flow” (see: “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention,” 1996). The new field of transpersonal psychology has formed itself around the study of such experiences.

In Senge’s language, “presencing” is the art and practice of consciously entering a creative space and process where innovation can take place. It is “pre-sensing” the future and participating in bring about the future into the present. It is internally sensing what is emergent within and without. It calls forth the intrapersonal and/or transpersonal skill of entering the quiet creative wellspring within yourself: the bottom of the “U” according Otto Scharmer (see his book “Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges”) or the “flow” of Csiksczentmihalyi.

At CCLFI we have experienced these creative moments. We observed in our workshops that almost everyone had experienced this moment at some time in their life, although they may not consciously recognize it as such. Perhaps it is not a largely cognitive process. We are at a loss to come up with words to describe the experience. “The mind is the last to know,” I tell my colleagues.

All these may sound “New Age-y” to some, but in the end, innovation is essential for hard-nosed business survival or even planetary survival. In the end, we must be able to connect the intangible experiential process of creation with its tangible benefits to the rest of the world. Whether businessmen or business school professors like it or not, we must continue to strive to understand the deeper nature of human creativity and innovation — and put that understanding to work in practical problems that confront not only businessmen but also prime ministers, not only factory managers but also peace negotiators.

Let me end with a quote from Secretary General Takenaka of the Asian Productivity Organization:

    “The days when incremental or continuous improvement preoccupied corporate managers are over. It is to innovation and breakthroughs that those managers have turned their attention. For achieving innovation, the most relevant tool is no longer quality control or quality management. It is knowledge management in its broadest sense, which includes value creation or knowledge creation that is the most relevant.”

Tell us what you think.

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Practice Internal Double-Loop Learning (Hint #12)

February 17, 2009

Double-loop learning is something you can practice every day. Your purpose is to discover why you do what you keep doing. You may be surprised to read this: 90% or more of what we do is semi-automatic or habitual. We do them with little thought.

Before we proceed further, please read the previous blog post (“Practice internal watchfulness -hint #11) and D17 (“Single-loop learning versus double-loop learning”).

A common example of automatic behavior is defensive reaction when you are criticized (or you perceive that you are criticized). The defensive reaction immediately kicks in, leaving you zero opportunity to listen and perhaps learn from the person who is criticizing (or seems to be criticizing) you. It does not matter if the other person did or did not intend to criticize. Maybe the other person is wrong, but what if he is right? Then your automaticity closes the door to your truly listening and possibly learning.

I use the word “right” and “wrong” in the KM sense, that is, whether or not something “works” or “works better.”

Every time you catch yourself in (afterwards or better during) the act of defending yourself, ask: why did I do it? What was the mental model or assumption behind my defensive reaction? Is it because I believe I am always right? Is it because I do not want to appear “stupid”? Or I do not want to admit my mistake? Is it because I want to always present the appearance of “being knowledgeable”? What is the (hidden) mental model behind my action?


Knowing the mental model allows you to examine it dispassionately and to see whether it is still valid or it is serving your best interests. If the answer is “no” then you can consciously revise your mental model. You won’t be able to do this if your mental model remains hidden from you; which is what happens when you just react defensively as a matter of automatic habit.

One of the many things I like in President Obama is his willingness to listen. Bonnie Harris of Ledger-Transcript in Peterborough, NH wrote recently:

    President Obama sent his special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France and Britain. His instructions to Mr. Mitchell: “Start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating.” What a concept! …Can we learn from the power of Obama’s willingness to listen — even to our enemies. Some think it will make us look weak. I believe it is the only direction to world peace.

President Obama is the most powerful man on Planet Earth, yet he is willing to listen. He is even willing to admit that he made a mistake.

Katie Couric of CBS Evening News recently interviewed President Obama about the withdrawal of Sen. Tom Daschle’s nomination as Health and Human Services secretary. Said the President,

    “I was very eager to make sure that we can deliver on a commitment that I have to deliver healthcare for the American people. I think I messed up. I screwed up in not recognizing the perception that even though this is an honest mistake, I believe, on Tom’s part, that, you know, ordinary people are out there paying taxes every day and whether it’s an intentional mistake or not, it was sending the wrong signal. So again, this was something that was my fault. I continue to consider Tom Daschle an outstanding public servant, uh, and what we’re going to do now is make sure we get somebody confirmed and start moving forward.”

A person who keeps defending himself and is unable to listen is a person who cannot learn, improve and grow as a person. He does not have the advantage of self-feedback that double-loop learning provides.

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Practice Internal Watchfulness (Hint #11)

February 15, 2009

What is the practical consequence of Q14 (Naming societal Megatrend #1: “from yang to yin”?)? “Yang to Yin” can be summarized in two words: “looking inward.” Do you agree?

In D17 (Single-loop learning versus double-loop learning) we saw the superiority of double-loop learning over single-loop learning. Revising the causes of an action is more efficient than revising only the action. Re-examining, and if needed, revising the rules governing an action works better than simply ensuring that the same rules are followed all the time. Intelligent action is better than mindless obedience.

There are two types of causes of an action: external and internal. Examples of external causes are: delay in arrival of raw materials, a team member was absent, high cost of fuel, the airconditioning equipment broke down, etc. Examples of internal causes are: lack of motivation on your part, you have a fever coming, you had a fight with your spouse earlier this morning, you are irritated with your boss, you don’t fully agree with the standard operating procedure, etc. The last type requires looking inward.






Double-loop learning requires performing both the first and second learning loops. The second learning loop that requires looking inward is often more difficult to do than the one that only requires looking outward. It is so much easier to blame others than to admit you were wrong. It is easier to blame the traffic this morning than to admit to your boss that you were late because you did not leave your home early enough.

Besides, looking inward is not our habit. Being aware of our thought processes, our assumptions, our doubts, our intentions — at the moment we have them — is not our habit. Our training in school was to look for empirical or external cause-and-effects. We had no training in looking at experiential or internal cause-and-effects.

Q14 is showing that there sems to be a shift in global consciousness: from yang to yin, or from looking outwards to looking inwards. It seems to be happening most everywhere: in the economy, in business, in religion, in international relations, in psychology, in development, in organizational dynamics, and even in the nature of learning.

Step consciously into this global trend by practicing greater self-awareness. Let me repeat what I said in Q13:

    In the February 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Bill George and his associates wrote about how to be an inspiring and empowering leader. They asked 75 members of the Advisory Councl of the Stanford Graduate School of Business what is the most important capability that leaders must develop. Their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.

Start practicing internal watchfulness. This is the doorway to greater learning. This is the passport to Power of the Third Kind. Learning starts with feedback; feedback starts with monitoring; and internal watchfulness IS monitoring. You will learn more about yourself. From my own personal experience, before practicing “conscious living” I thought I knew myself. After three decades in this practice, I can see now that I hardly knew 10% of myself three decades ago.

Lao-tse again:

    “He who knows much about others may be learned, but he who understands himself is more intelligent. He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.”


A footnote: some authors use the term “triple-loop learning” but the meanings of this term differ among authors and to avoid confusion I do not recommend using this term. It is enough to realize that revising causes of action is a better form of learning than revising only the action; and that BOTH inward and outward causes of action must be examined.

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Q14- Naming Trans-Societal Megatrend #1: “Towards Yin”?

February 13, 2009

Let us practice discerning patterns or sensing the emergent. In simple words, let us practice “connecting the dots.”

What seems to be the common or underlying thread across the following trends?

Corporate wealth: intangible assets, and no longer tangible assets, constitute most of market value of corporations. Intangible assets include human and relationship capital. Most of organizational knowledge is in the form of tacit knowledge instead of explicit knowledge.

Global economy: In most national economies, more GDP is being created from services (human knowledge) than from industry (processing of resources).

Community development: successful anti-poverty projects are those that leverage on a community’s intangible assets (and not on its tangible assets).

Educational psychology: Intelligence was believed by psychologists to be basically only twofold: mathematical and linguistic. Now, multiple intelligence is recognized, which also includes emotional, spatial, inter-personal and intra-personal intelligence. Many researchers found that EQ is the more important determinant of success at work and in life than IQ. A “spiritual quotient” was also proposed.

National development: Before, development was viewed in largely economic terms (measured in GNP or GDP); now the prevailing goal is sustainable development which also includes the socio-cultural and ecological dimensions. UNDP developed the Human Development Index to complement GDP and other material measures. Gender equality is becoming a global norm.

Security: Before, security was viewed from statist and military terms. Now there are terms used in the United Nations discourses such as “food security”, “ecological security” and “human security”.

Attitude to environment: A shift is taking place from control perspective to harmony perspective and from man-nature dichotomy to man-as-part-of-nature or organic thinking.

Psychology: Empirical-clinical psychology is now complemented by paranormal psychology, transpersonal psychology and phenomenological research.

International conflicts: Root-causes of conflicts before were largely ideological and territorial; now conflicts are also non-military and due to trade, technological, religious and ethnic-cultural causes.

Religion: Beliefs in a male or transcendent God are now complemented by beliefs in a female or immanent God; in Christianity, creation spirituality is an alternative to fall-redemption spirituality. In Catholicism, Vatican II shifted towards priesthood of the laity.

Organizational dynamics: A shift is going on from hierarchical or vertical dynamics to more flat or network dynamics; from a Taylorist and mechanic view of organizations to a Senge and learning-growing or gardener view of organizations.

What is happening? Can you connect the dots? The connection seems to be cutting across various disciplines and sectors: it is trans-societal. It is a trend across many trends: it is a mega-trend

What qualities seem to be emerging?



How do we name this trans-societal mega-trend? After I presented the above ideas in a conference in Taipeh in 1999, a Singaporean professor suggested that the above changes can be described, using the Yin-Yang Chinese cosmology, as a movement towards Yin. [Thank you to Catherine Auman who suggested that we are not replacing Yang with Yin but we are moving towards a world where both are equally valued.]

Do you agree? What do you think?

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Practice #10: Sensing the Emergent

February 10, 2009

My next three blog posts Q14 to Q16 will be about sensing the emergent. Innovators and leading-edge entrepreneurs in Google,, Facebook, etc. have this skill.

Let us practice this skill by asking a simple question: Where is the global financial crisis possibly taking us? There are many possible answers. This practice is about coming up with many plausible answers.

Let me start. I am adding a question mark after each to indicate that we are only making guesses — intelligent guesses maybe, but guesses nevertheless.

    Worldwide heightening of the sense that we are interdependent?
    End of America as an economic superpower?
    Opportunity for more Americans to feel how it is to be poor?
    Raising further the bar of corporate social responsibility?
    More bridles on the horse called “financial derivatives and innovations”?
    The rise of BRIC nations? (Brazil, Russia, India and China)
    New and more effective global governance systems?

What else do you sense?

You can get more practical by applying the skill on yourself or on your life.

  • Make a list of recent events, issues and surprises in your life.
  • Include books, news or magazine articles, conversations and statements in TV that attracted your attention recently.
  • Did you meet new people or old friends after many years, lose friends or loved ones, or experience “closing doors” or “opening doors” of opportunity such as offers?
  • What new ideas, options, aspirations, changes or plans are a-borning in your mind? List anything external or internal to you that seems significant to you.
  • Study your list. Try “connecting the dots” or better, “connecting the movements” in your life.

What seems to be emerging in your life?

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