Business Management, Career, Problem-solving

Blindness to a problem leads to a life without vision

Image Credit: therapy-a.com

We know magic tricks and illusions are not for real. But we’re deeply fascinated by it, every time Kevin James, David Copperfield, David Blaine and many others perform on stage. After all, we want to be entertained from time to time. At times, we don’t bother to know their secret, unless one would want to become another illusionist.

The secret behind this is what Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics Daniel Kahneman says in his 2011 book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” He claims: “We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.”

Kahneman’s thesis was preceded by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, who became famous in 1999 for “The Invisible Gorilla Experiment.” It proves how people who concentrate on one thing can easily overlook, if not ignore, another equally important situation or opportunity.

YouTube has several versions of the experiment that demonstrates the same effect. A typical demonstration includes several students passing a basketball among themselves. The viewers are asked to count the number of times the players in white shirts pass the ball. If you will concentrate on counting you will tend to miss a person in a gorilla suit walking and beating his chest inside where the action is.

Paul Bloom, writing for The New York Times, says in “What We Miss” (2010) that this experiment “is a striking demonstration of the zero-sum nature of attention. When you direct your mental spotlight to the basketball passes, it leaves the rest of the world in darkness. Even when you are looking straight at the gorilla (and other experiments find that people who miss it often have their eyes fully on it) you frequently don’t see it, because it’s not what you’re looking for.

The Invisible Gorilla Experiment explains the frailty of human nature. We concentrate more on what we have on our desk (or plate) and hope to get it over with flying colors with our respective bosses, at least as a form of wishful thinking. So we tend to unwittingly ignore other opportunities if only for us to keep our eyes on our next daily bread.

When everyone acts and thinks like this, we are blinded by the proximity to our problems, mindless of the fact that we are losing money in the process, particularly when we are working for a corporation that is earning hundreds of millions of cash daily.

“We’re earning a lot of money, and so why sweat the small stuff?” says people who don’t care if their corporations are losing coins in the process. Now, what if we calculate them all? You’ll be surprised at the amount of wastes you’re sending down the drain. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said: “Beware of little expenses. A small leak can sink a great ship.”

At times, the cliché “why sweat the small stuff” has its own value. If it’s not worth it, we’ve to let it go. But that’s assuming we know the value. What if we don’t know what we’re missing? The trouble is that many of wastes around us are invisible and hidden from plain view.

In summary, take time to understand the whole situation. Ask the right question – is there a better way? What other opportunities are we missing? If you’re in management, appoint someone to act as a devil’s advocate and rotate the task to keep people on their toes. At first, the devil’s advocate may be unpopular, but as soon as everyone has taken the task, the team would surely appreciate the role.

That’s why you should always look at the fine print of everything. Because the devil is in the details.

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 This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies http://www.kairos.com.ph

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Career, Job search, Problem-solving

Asking dumb questions is better that giving dumb answers

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WHY DO SOME people have to ask the obvious when you’re wet, irritated with a flat tire on a rainy night beside a busy road: “Have you got a flat tire?” That you may feel like replying: “Of course, not! I always rotate my tires at night on a busy road and when it’s raining.”

That’s an extreme. Really, asking questions is an excellent communication tool, especially the open-ended type that allows the respondent to put up a lengthy answer that could lead an investigative reporter or police investigator to more interesting bits and pieces of information.

Questions that start with who, what, where, when, why and how are too basic to be ignored if your objective is elicit meaningful responses. Sometimes, close-ended questions or those that are designed to give only “yes” or “no” answers are also welcome, but not necessarily desirable.

Here are some examples: A good question is something like this: “What’s your view on federalism as a new form of our government?” On the other hand, a bad one is like asking, “Do you like federalism?” The following question is as terrible as the one asking it: “What would you do to prevent those pests from pushing with federalism – A, B, C, or D?” The last question is a dumb question because it gives a hint to the respondent, even if the choices are miles away from what he’s thinking.

Let’s talk of another situation. After each meeting, I would ask my students the much-dreaded questions, such as: “Any questions? If there’s none, let me start with some of my difficult questions in our graded recitation. Ready?”

In many job interviews, there are many dumb questions that are parroted by hiring managers who have no idea what they’re talking about. One is – “what’s your greatest weakness?” After all, who would want to admit his or her weakness before a prospective employer? Besides, the internet has become an ocean of information on how to ace this dumb interview question that recruitment managers are now changing their style by asking smart questions.

Liz Ryan, who was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for “10 million years” and now contributes to Forbes, says job applicants can outsmart hiring managers who are prone to asking dumb interview questions. “When HR folks, hiring managers and recruiters stop and think, their brains turn on. They have to get off the standard interview script. That’s good for them – and for you (job seekers)! You will make an impression. Sadly, that is one thing most job-seekers forget to do. They sit on the chair like a good little sheepish job-seeker and they make no impression at all. A day later the interviewer may well have forgotten the interview entirely!”

If you have the self-confidence typical of my readers, you’ll probably ask: “If there are dumb interview questions, then what would be the smart ones?” The smart questions should pertain to the current and future issues of an organization. Paraphrase them so that the applicants may not suspect about your current dilemma and at the same time allow the applicants to come up with the best possible, unrehearsed answers.

For instance, the question – “How would you handle a toxic, dictatorial boss?” may suggest that the organization is being slowed down by a prospective toxic, dictatorial boss, whom you may not like. Therefore, re-frame the situation: “How would you handle the rejection of your proposal? What would make you stay in an organization even if you’re not being paid good money?”

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Really, there are many smart questions that you can find from the internet. My advice to you is not copy them. Instead, paraphrase them in such a way that you’ll tweak the discussion into real-life situations. Caveat aside, I still believe that asking dumb questions is much better than giving dumb answers. If you know you’re predisposed to asking dumb quizzers, think hard before opening your mouth. Nobody wants to be branded as dumb. Therefore, ensure your questions are much better.

Start with the following: If you can be born again, what nationality would you like to be and why? What was the most important non-cash reward that you got from your boss and why did you appreciate it much? If I would do a background check, what would they say about your greatest weakness? How would you appeal and convince your boss who has already rejected your proposal? What are the top three important things that keep you awake at night?

In conclusion, let me tell you that being smart means acting differently from other managers, but for the better. The rule of the corporate game is meritocracy, not seniority, connections with those in power, or whatever. It’s all about earning profit with honor in whatever kind of business you’re in.

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kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma, Toyota Production System

If You Can’t Solve a Problem, Try Common Sense

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THERE’S a toothpaste factory with a major integrity concern. At times, they shipped hundreds of empty boxes without the tube inside to customers and distributors, who complain that the factory is cheating on them. Understanding the problem, the CEO assembled his department heads and decided they hire an external consultant to resolve the issue.

Four months later, the consultant recommended a fantastic solution – a high-precision scale worth $8 million that would sound a bell and flash red lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. Immediately, the expensive scale was installed.

As expected, the scale would automatically stop the line as soon as it detects empty boxes, and the assigned workers walk over into it to remove the defective packs, and then, press another button to restart the line.

The management was pleased with the result. There were no more empty boxes being shipped out to customers and distributors. The CEO beamed with pride and told his management team the $8 million investment was worth it.

He read the production report of the past three weeks showing the scale’s performance was consistent with the projection of the external consultant. The production line prevented around one thousand empty toothpaste every week, which could, otherwise have been delivered to their customers and distributors. However, after one month, no empty boxes were reported to have been blocked by the expensive high-precision scale.

The CEO was disturbed. He verified the report with his production manager who affirmed it. Not satisfied with the claim, he came down to the shop floor and saw just before the scale a $20 electric fan blowing the empty boxes away off the conveyor belt, directly into a recycled large wooden bin.

He asked the production supervisor what that was all about. “Oh, you mean the electric fan?” he replied. “Bert, that young kid from the agency put it there because he was tired of walking over, every time the scales’ bell rang for the empty boxes.”

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With this story in  mind, I can’t understand why people and organizations prefer the expensive and complicated Six Sigma to solve quality and productivity, when there are easy to implement and low-cost practical solutions like Kaizen and Lean? I’m not saying that Six Sigma and the Black Belts are useless. What I’m saying is that, not all workplace problems can be solved by Six Sigma, which, according to Mark Deluzio, is a “problem-solving tool,” compared with Lean as a “problem-solving toolbox.”

To put it in the extreme – why use a flame-thrower to kill a pesky fly, when all you need is a swatter?

“Most waste-related company problems can be solved by using simple Lean tools. Six Sigma is appropriate for 5 percent to 10 percent of defect reduction challenges. Lean is easier to learn, easier to deploy, and is faster and lower-cost than Six Sigma. Lean principles and techniques can be used by every employee. Lean encourages input from all people in the organization. That’s not the case with Six Sigma, which requires highly-trained specialists,” says Deluzio in his 2016 book Turn Waste into Wealth: How to Find Cash in Every Corner of the Company. TPM Freddie Flyer 02042018 (4)

Kaizen and Lean are generic terms used by Japanese and western managers, respectively, while the Thinking Production System, aka Toyota Production System, is known as its famous, branded version.

Six Sigma became popular due to Jack Welch’s prominence in the American business community of yesteryears, until sometime when “Six Sigma gained a reputation it does not deserve. Six Sigma practitioners use data to make decisions on how to minimize process variation…(and therefore) requires extensive training in statistics and data analysis. (Further) Six Sigma is expensive and requires a lot of problem-solving time, often six to nine months per project,” claims Deluzio.

If you’re not yet convinced, learn from another story: “During the heat of the space race in the 1960s, NASA quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research and development, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of $1 million. The pen worked in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth. On the other hand, the Soviet Union, when faced with the same problem, used a pencil.”


Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is a business journalist in The Philippines and an advocate of Kaizen/Lean tool as a simple and practical approach to problem-solving. “Elbonomics” is a collection of personal maxims and articles that reflect on his anecdotes.

The spot cartoon of a man sawing a branch is from happydays-365.com 

This article is sponsored by Kairos Management Technologies — event organizer of cutting edge programs on quality and productivity.

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Management Consulting, Total Quality Management

The Solution is in the Same Place Where the Problem Was First Created

IMAGINE yourself looking around for the best Total Quality Management (TQM) program amid various proposals being offered left and right by consultants. The goal of finding the best consultant is on everyone’s lips after your organization has fallen victim to an inexperienced scammer, who charged the lowest consulting fee of $1,000 a day but produced nothing. Talk of paying peanuts to a monkey.

Now, they’re doing it all over again. The first one on the prospect’s list is Consultant “A” – a mature, seasoned management consultant who has retired from the corporate world. The trouble is that – he charges $3,000 a day, one of the highest consulting fees around, though reasonably lower than those charged by foreign consultancies staffed by good-looking, young but raw local talents whose claim to “fame” are their MBAs from exclusive schools.

And so the CEO invites “A” to the boardroom where department managers sit ready to conduct a wolf-pack interrogation. After an overextended exchange of pleasantries, punctuated by obligatory laughter over some anecdotes, “A” is requested to deliver a presentation on how he could help the organization.

After the presentation, “A” coaxes the managers for questions. The CEO removes his eyeglasses and looks at “A” with a puncturing smile: “How do you sustain a program like that so that it will not be relegated into the dustbin? How would you propose to defeat the ningas-cogon (flash-fire, sudden death implementation) mentality of people?”

Consultant “A” smiles back: “There are many ways to do it. We’ll only be limited by our own imagination. For one, as soon as we’ve pulled off with at least three pilot projects, focusing on low-hanging fruits, we’ll give rewards and recognition to deserving teams every month. All monthly winners will compete in an annual competition where the grand team champion is sent to Japan for a weeklong training and pleasure activities.

“I’m confident that the cost savings that we can help discover are more than enough to pay for that. Also, we can vary the monthly theme to focus on safety, health, quality, productivity, environment, etc. By and large, you as the CEO should play an active leadership role in making this happen, beyond giving inspirational speeches.

“You must be ably supported by department managers who must play an active role in coaching their problem-solving teams to come up with their best performance. This must be complemented by requiring all workers to make problem-solving as part of their key performance indicators.”

The next question comes from a maverick, talkative manager who has been whispering side comments to the lady seated next to him. He asks, “Who are your clients on this program? Can you list down some names that we can verify?”

Consultant “A” says: “Of course, I’m ready to give you the names of my clients as soon as I’ve secured their permission. Please understand that I have a non-disclosure agreement with my clients. The same thing that I will do as soon as your company hires my services.”

As soon as all questions have been asked, Consultant “A” turns the table by asking the company about its current issues and challenges. “What’s the total amount of 5 plus 5?” The boardroom suddenly falls silent.

No one dares to speak, including the CEO, who waits for his deputies to give it a try. Apparently, everyone suspects a trap. “A” scans the entire room for answers, and after close to 60 seconds of silence, he answers his question – “5 plus 5 is 10, right?” And he continues: “My five-year old grandson knows that. You are all department managers with an apparent average of 20 years of corporate work experience, why couldn’t you answer such question?”

Then, he launches a mild set of tirades aimed at a well-behaved audience. “As I entered your office, I saw a good number of opportunities that you may want to uncover. For one, the job applicants are exposed to the elements, while filling-up some forms using a wooden bench as desk. Why don’t you give them the decency and self-respect to do that in the anteroom of your office?

“Second, the security guard didn’t know where I should go. And third, I saw tarpaulin banners all around the office promoting the ideals of 5S good housekeeping. It looks like you’ve been practicing 5S for some time now. But what are those piles of carton boxes doing at the back of the room? Why are you making this board room a warehouse?”

The CEO and the managers look at each other with a confident smile. “Those are Christmas decors!” says one department manager.

Consultant “A” retorts: “Those carton boxes don’t have labels which are essential in practicing 5S. After the holidays, where do you intend to place them? Look, I’m not here to give you a hard sell and to put you down. I’m beating the grass to startle the snakes, with the intention of telling you that the solutions can be found in the place where the problem was first created.

“This is not rocket science. The key, therefore, is removing your blinders to problems. Truly, the greatest problem of all is to refuse to acknowledge that there’s a problem. The enemy is within. You don’t need a consultant to make this happen.”

Everyone turns quiet. The meeting closed with feigned smiles from all over. No one knows what hit them, except Consultant “A,” who believes in the tagline of ANA, Japan’s 5-star airline: “Little things can go a long way.” No one knew that “A” is known as an “insultant” in the industry, more than anything. Now, the snakes are back to the grassy land.


Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is a newspaper columnist at BusinessWorld and The Manila Times, two major dailies in The Philippines. He’s also a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest.

The image of “problem-solution-success” is created by Nairaland Forum.

This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies (est.1997) – the organizer of the following public events:

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Career, Job-Hunting

The Body Language of Job Applicants Tells a Lot if the Interviewer Can Read It

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UNDERSTANDING the body language of job candidates is a strategic approach we can use to predict how they will behave and perform on the actual job. Even if the applicants can ace all of the hiring manager’s killer interview questions and they appear to be qualified, still…we can’t ignore those small things that candidates would show in their unguarded moments before, during, and after the interview process

No, I’m not talking of the applicant’s tardiness. That’s too obvious. What I’m referring to are minor gaffes that some managers don’t take seriously or tend to ignore, because they’re too insignificant to consider, given the fact that we decide based on the total package of a person, and not on small things alone.

Career expert Richard Bolles in the 2014 edition of What Color is Your Parachute? talks about the principle of “microcosm reveals macrocosm.” It means that what job applicants “do in some small ‘universe’ like in a job interview reveals how (they) would and will act in a larger ‘universe.’”

Bolles is right. Small things can make or unmake a job candidate. Excellence in the hiring process can be done by paying attention to details. And so, how would you read and interpret the body language of applicants, particularly those who are interested in some managerial position in your organization? There’s no other way but for us to pay serious attention to the following body language of applicants:

1. Showing poor personal habits. You know what it means about good personal hygiene. It includes having clean fingernails, freshly laundered clothes, pants with a sharp crease, and well-polished shoes. Further, the applicant must not give any hint of tobacco smoke or wear an overpowering cologne that fills the enclosed space of the office. This is important even if one is applying for the post in the preventive maintenance department of a factory.

2. Having nervous mannerisms. This is often manifested when an applicant responds with a limp handshake or continually avoids eye contact with the interviewer. According to experts, avoiding eye contact possibly relates to stress or anxiety, complemented by nonverbal cues like an endless fidgeting of hand, cracking knuckles, or playing with hair during the interview.

3. Lack of self-confidence or being defensive. This is evident when an applicant speaks softly, reluctantly gives an answer, stammers a lot, or responds with very short answers. On the other hand, an eager beaver is someone who constantly interrupts the interviewer, or is overly critical of his current or past boss or employer. If not, the applicant may appear with folded arms and crossed legs, in a defensive position.

4. Lack of consideration to other people. This is best shown in the applicant’s lack of courtesy to the parking attendant, security guard, the receptionist, or the secretary in the office or to the waiter or waitress, if the job interview is being done in a restaurant. If an applicant snubs the greeting of any of these people, then we have a problem that pertains to one’s lack of social skills.

5. Forgetting about social courtesy. This is related to number four above. Conducting the job interview in a restaurant or hotel gives the hiring manager the best view of a candidate. You can learn a lot about the candidate if he orders the most expensive meal on the menu, or some messy meal like crab or spaghetti, finishes his meal ahead of you, or orders an alcoholic beverage during the interview process.

6. Showing signs of emotional instability. This can happen when a job applicant talks a lot about his political or religious belief, criticizes some government officials, the minority groups (including the LGBT community), badmouths his past or current employers, if not mocks the religion of other people. These topics are inappropriate in a job interview, even if the hiring manager opens up with those topics as a way to break the ice, if not to establish rapport.

7, Disregarding personal health and safety.  Many employers, including those who smoke, prefer a non-smoker over a smoker. I guess this is true even among tobacco manufacturers who admit that smoking is bad for one’s health. This could mean a lot if we are to choose between two candidates on the shortlist. Bolles says 94% of the time, the non-smoker will win, citing a study done at Seattle University.

Even the smartest hiring manager can be easily fooled by dumb job candidates if the former ignores those little things. It is not enough that an applicant must ace the killer questions in an interview process. There are many things that one must consider, including the personality of the applicant. After all, the hiring manager or anyone who makes the ultimate decision to hire will be working with the candidate on a daily basis.

Now, imagine this. Who would want to work with someone with smelly feet?

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Rey Elbo or Mr. Elbonomics is the pioneering newspaper advice columnist on total quality and people management issues in the Philippines. His “In the Workplace” column started in BusinessWorld in 1993 and “Beyond Buzzwords”  column in The Manila Times in 2002. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com. 

Image on waiting job applicants is credited to Vcool.com

This article is brought to you by Kairos Management Technologies (est. 1997), organizer of the following cutting-edge management programs. Contact Ricky Mendoza at inquiry@kairos.com.ph or call (632) 846-8951 or mobile 0915-406-3039.

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People management, Work Relations

Whoever has the authority to hire workers, has the same authority to fire them

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I’M NOT SURE ABOUT THE PRACTICES IN OTHER COUNTRIES.  But here in the Philippines, I still encounter people asking questions on who should personally handle employee discipline, including the unsavory act of firing erring workers. True, employee discipline is an unpleasant task, but it doesn’t mean that HR should take the brunt, if only to take the dirty job away from line managers who have no backbone to do it.

The role of HR is basically a staff function with the responsibility of giving professional advice to line management executives. In Management 101, HR as a staff authority has a special task that includes studying and sharing of industry best practices, giving advice, and making recommendations to line executives within the same organization. HR, like the finance department, will have the same staff authority to coordinate with line executives on which accounting forms to use to facilitate the release of budget and eventual purchase of certain equipment or services.

Even without this theoretical underpinning, it is unthinkable, unwise, if not impractical for an HR department head to discipline all erring workers, while their line bosses whistle their way around until the next potentially problematic worker comes in. Let me tell you this once again. Problem employees and employees with problems are created by problem managers.

If only these line executives are qualified to perform their job of personally nurturing and motivating their workers, like a green thumb gardener (as opposed to a lumberjack), then there should be no disciplinary issue that could reach HR.

People managers don’t have much choice but to personally manage the conduct and behavior of their employees. There’s no other way, if they want to remain part of the management team. HR may come in to hold the hand of the concerned line executive, but the latter must still play an active and strategic role.

To make everything runs smoothly, HR and the line department must study the applicable policy, rediscover established precedents (or exceptions) and more importantly to observe both substantive and procedural due process. HR may only be present to support the line executive in issuing the charge memo and guide both parties (the boss and erring worker) on the proper procedure.

HR’s presence in the disciplinary process is helpful, if only to ensure that the worker is given his full day in court. Therefore, HR must remain objective and neutral in the entire process to secure the trust of the worker.

Remember that the higher purpose of employee discipline is to correct unwarranted behavior and therefore must be personally managed by the concerned line supervisors and managers.

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This article first appeared in Rey Elbo’s advice column “In the Workplace” in the Jan 26, 2018 issue of BusinessWorld. Image credit goes to iForex Blog.

THIS ARTICLE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY KAIROS MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGIES.

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Inspirational, Perseverance

Forget the rain, look for the rainbow

How do we compare Watanabe with English-speaking, noted people like Thomas Alva Edison, Hellen Keller, Stevie Wonder, and Nick Vujicik, among others. In case you’re not familiar with their names or may have forgotten them, let me describe their personal qualities:

Edison was a lightbulb and phonograph inventor who was known for his famous edict: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Keller is blind and deaf who became the first such person to earn a bachelor’s degree and later on became an author, political activist, and lecturer. In recent memories—Stevie Wonder, whose real name is Stevland Hardaway Judkins, is a blind musician, singer, song writer, record producer, and multi-instrumentalist who is best remembered for the 1972 hit “You are the Sunshine of my Life.”

While Vujicic is a modern-day Christian evangelist and motivational speaker who was born without arms and limbs.

Their stories have one important lesson in life. If you want to succeed, never mind the cloud and its accompanying rain. Instead, always look out for the rainbow. If there’s no rainbow, at least be satisfied that the rain watered the farm, filled-up our dams, and made frogs sing their favorite songs. Never mind how old the stories are, but it’s timeless, positively evoking lessons. It’s like applying old solutions to new problems.

Therefore, how do you persevere despite all odds, including age and physical limitations? In the words of Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up!” Stay on course. Show commitment with relentless pride and positive energy in completing a task. Trying again and again and again like Watanabe who passed the bar exam after 17 attempts and Edison who learned 10,000 times from his failed experiments.

And of course, being patient as you work hard enough, day and night. That’s a common pattern when one tries to move forward. So the real questions—how do we explain the positive use of perseverance to our children. Well, at least, my wife can read Eric Carle’s “The Very Busy Spider” to our first grandson, Teo, now a 3.5 years old energetic, playful, and English-speaking pre-school boy.

The busy spider is one important lesson on perseverance. Don’t mind all the noises from literal and figurative animals. Spin your web to your heart’s content. Do your job and do it well. Fortunately, the world has a lot to offer. You can turn a problem into an opportunity or vice versa, depending on how you appreciate things.

NOTE: This article is a modified version of the author’s article in his Sep 4, 2016 “Beyond Buzzwords” column in The Manila Times. Image credit to http://www.missouriskies.org

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