PUBLISHED IN HIGH BROWSE (JULY - SEPTEMBER 2004) BY NATIONAL LIBRARY BOARD, SINGAPORE
Every day that we live, we are MAD (Making A Difference). One of United Kingdom's leading personal development experts, Andy Gilbert, will tell you this in his book: "The Art of Making A Difference" (2001).
But let me first tell you a little bit about myself.
For two decades, I didn't think too highly of myself. I was a little person with a little mind "thinking little thoughts about the trivia that is the stock and trade of Mr and Mrs Mediocrity" - at least, according to Zig Ziglar in "See You At The Top" (1984).
As a result, I didn't expect a lot from my life.
In school, I was neither good in sports nor studies.
With an aggregate of 209, I only just made it into the Express stream in secondary school. With 17 points, I also just made it into St. Andrew's Junior College. I spent three years in college instead of the usual two. My dismal 'A'-Level results could not get me into any credible university, both locally and overseas. The diploma that I acquired later barely qualified me for law school at the University of Leicester, UK.
I did not take an active part in sports. I was what the Acting Minister for Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam recently labelled a "soft" student.
I completed my National Service as a mere footman performing a clerical function.
All this while, my loved ones encouraged me to read, read and read. They believed that the acquisition of knowledge opens windows to opportunities. So I visited the library frequently, shopped at bookstores regularly and read newspapers daily.
I guess my loved ones were inspired by the words of the great innovator, Walt Disney, who said, "There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island."
Similarly, John Milton, one of the greatest poets of the English language, has shared, "A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."
To me, these words were pure rhetoric until the summer holidays of my first year in university when I read "The Art of Making A Difference".
Months before the holidays, by sheer accident, I had picked up the book in my university's students' union building. It reminded me of the Singapore 21 vision: "Together, We Make A Difference".
"The Art of Making A Difference" is the outcome of a 14-month research involving more than 3,000 people. Andy and his team at Go MAD Group wanted to know the answer to one basic question: "What is the natural process that a person uses to be successful?"
Each person involved in this research was invited to reflect about a difference he or she had made.
As a result, the research team discovered the 'DNA for Making A Difference'. The research team found that there were seven key things a person did consistently to be successful, whatever the measure of success. First, the person had strong reasons for making a difference. Then, the person defined the goal, planned priorities and effectively involved others. Crucially, the person also had positive self-belief and a high sense of personal responsibility. Above all, the person took action and measured results.
In "The Art of Making A Difference", the research team encourages readers to apply the findings of its research in their own lives. After reading the book, I applied it to a few projects I did.
One of the projects eventually led to my nomination as UK's Asian University Student of the Year. I did not get the award but the publicity that followed this nomination enabled to me to share my experience with others.
Later, I worked with the Go MAD Group for about two years. During this stint, I got first-hand knowledge about how some of the world's leading thinkers and companies applied the research. For example, a business unit at 3M used it to secure over 50% of the investment funding available to the whole of Europe.
I have also acquired the will and ability to help others make a difference. One vivid experience was when I helped a friend, who was just starting his business, to close key deals with a few national companies.
All in all, "The Art of Making A Difference" has made me a more confident and positive person. It has enabled me to make measurable differences in both my professional and personal life. For example, the book helped me to secure the job of corporate counsel at a top organisation in Singapore. A few years ago, I would have considered this a distant possibility.
I believe that "The Art of Making A Difference" can help you in the same manner as it has helped (and still helps) me. A dean at a local university, who read "The Art of Making A Difference", once shared with me, "If people apply even less than half of what is written in this book, it will still make a big difference!"
Nevertheless, I appreciate that the books we read uniquely affect us. There is clearly some wisdom in the words of one of my favourite authors, Salman Rushdie: "A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return."
You never know where a book can take you. The great scholar and historian Andrew Lang once said, "You can cover a great deal of country in books."
My parting advice is this: read, read and read! Indeed, it is a good way to pick up "The Art of Making A Difference".