Archives for the ‘Courage’ Category

Strike a Pose

Whether you’re a first time developer, manager, leader or parent, according to Amy Cuddy in her Ted talk, the key to increased confidence in what you do is to strike a pose. Literally.

While your mind can clearly control your body, according to research, changing your posture can significantly affect what you think. Especially how you perceive yourself.

Years ago, while I was totally daunted by the prospect of my final year French spoken exam, a girl who lived down the corridor shared with me the secret to her consistent high performance in exams.

“Of course I study for every exam,” Miss High Achiever said. “But there’s something else I do right before I go into the exam room. It’s very silly, but it works.”

It turns out my friend would spend a few minutes psyching herself up in front of a mirror, usually in the ladies toilets. She would stand tall, look herself in the eye then say just loud enough for herself to hear, “You’re the best. You’re the best. You’re the best.”

At the time, out of desperation, I tried out my friend’s tip. I did much better than I ever imagined in my final year French spoken exam.

Of course, spending a year out in France as a language assistant helped as did my intense revision.

Standing in front of the mirror just before my exam telling myself “You’re the best” didn’t turn me into a narcissist anymore than it did with my friend. Instead, it reminded us that no matter what happened, we were going to give it our best shot.

And that’s my takeaway from Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk. “Fake it until you become it.” With enough practice, preparation and self-belief you, too, can make it.

This tip got me through one of my scarier moments in 2012 when I gave my first TedX talk last year.

How are you going to fake it until you become it?

When You Wish Upon a Star

Miserly Wishing

Some people are stingy with their wishes. “I have only three wishes, so I must make each of them count!” they tell themselves. The result of this miserly attitude to wishing often results in wishes that barely resemble what people really, really want. And, more importantly, what they really, really need.

Meaningful Wishing

To discover what really matters to you, try answering this question from artist Candy Chang: “Before I die I want to…”

Infinite Wishing

I’ve heard tell that in the original version of the Genie in the Lamp there was no constraint on the number of wishes one could make upon setting the genie free.

Plenty More Wishes in the Sea

So go on. What do you wish for? Come up with one wish after another. And remember, when you wish upon a star, you’re a step closer towards turning that wish into a reality. After all, everything we do begins with a thought. For the lucky ones, it begins with a wish. For those who persevere, we can make our wishes come true.

Here’s wishing you a Happy 2013 and beyond!

2012 – A Personal Retrospective

To make more of the future, we have to learn from the past. In order to learn from the past, we need to take time out to reflect. Only then can we can identify improvement actions effectively and do them. I might not like what I see when I look back but it’s always worthwhile.


  • Do at least one thing a day that scared me, from challenging the status quo to confronting my own incongruent behaviour
  • Playmaking: I say “Play once a day to keep the doctor and priest away” – Used play to repeatedly transform conversations and situations by helping people (re-) connect with each other. Watch my talk on
  • Identify my goals and go for it: I set myself SMART goals and achieved them – including writing my first book and the first ever Agile Choose-your-Own-Adventure novel “The Dream Team Nightmare“, presenting an idea worth spreading at TEDx “Enterprise Gardening: Transforming workplaces into somewhere we belong” and growing a family of my own


  • Being too judgmental: This remains one of my top flaws. While making judgment quickly is a pre-requisite for an effective consultant, it’s also a self-limiting habit, especially for a coach who wants to improve herself. Going forward, I will focus first on facts then bring in intuition and experience
  • Slow to improve: In order to improve quickly, I will make every interaction a learning opportunity and apply what I’ve learned as quickly as possible to a) test its effectiveness; b) get in the practice of applying it; c) release the value of that learning
  • Too much work-in-progress: I find it difficult to prioritise my workload and procrastinate when it comes to less interesting work. Instead, I will work on one thing at a time and release the value of that item as quickly as possible before starting work on another


  1. Use what I know: It’s all too easy and wasteful to talk the talk without walking the walk
  2. Sustainable pace: Work at a pace that allows me to think fast and/or slow as necessary so that I can do what I love well forever. Working at a sustainable pace gives me the head space to think and act more congruently
  3. Be gentle with myself and others: Instead of expressing passion in terms of metaphors of violence and destruction, use nurture to help ideas and people grow
  4. Try things out: Experiment and put ideas to the test in order to see if they’re any good before casting them aside; challenge assumptions
  5. Help those who want to help themselves: When asked if we want to improve, most people’s answer is “Of course!”. This is often followed by inaction in spite of the individual’s initial response. Invest wisely on what, whom and how I spend my time to maximise the Return- On-Investment for everyone involved
  6. Slow down to speed up: As the rabbit said, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get”. Check out Carl Honore’s talk on Slowness on
  7. Follow my dreams: Only I am capable of realising my dreams. Figure out what they are, envision them coming true, then reverse-engineer what it’ll take to get me there and take one baby step at a time

Back to the Future

How was 2012 for you? What will you make of 2013?

Up Close and Uncomfortable

Challenging the Caring Profession

In the run-up to my Christmas baby, I’ve had more close encounters with those who work in the “caring profession” than I’ve had since I first arrived in the world over all those years ago.

And all the time I now spend in waiting rooms has given me lots of time to think.

Caring vs Competence

What makes me uncomfortable is the large number of people I’ve met who are not only not passionate about their job but are incompetent at what they do.

In my experience, the caring profession is no exception in a world where we are encouraged to demand more than the value we actually add.

What People Want

The usual demand goes something like this: “I want more recognition, more money, more influence, more power…” And so the wish list continues.

And I find myself asking in return: “How much value are you providing for your current wage? How do you provide a positive Return-On-Investment to your organisation?”

If you cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction and that of your organisation’s, how would you feel if your organisation asked for some of their money back? After all, it seems only fair.

If you’re not helping to make things better, it’s more likely than not that you’re making things worse.

What’s a “caring profession” anyway?

I’ve come to define a caring profession as one that:
a) Involves people AND/OR
b) Impacts people

Why? Because caring is key to creating a positive customer experience. Caring also inspires us to improve at our craft in order to serve others better. All this results in more value for everyone to enjoy.

Based on my definition, most of us work in the caring profession.

What if you were to blame a little less and care a little more? How could you change the world around you?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

A Flash from the Past

Years ago when I was back at school, I had two very different English teachers.

The first was Ms. H, a quiet, unassuming and knowledgeable young teacher. She was my favourite teacher because she encouraged me to improve my writing through my assignments. For a long time, I wondered if she wanted to become a writer herself and just before I left school, I found out that she was writing a novel in her spare time. I remember feeling pleased upon discovering this information and secretly wished her well.

The second was Mrs. W, a very knowledgeable and exceptionally opinionated teacher. In many ways, teachers with strong views can be an inspiration and Mrs. W was exactly that to me. Mrs. W was a retired journalist who had worked at a number of the famous newspapers in London. She seemed the most worldly-wise among all the teachers at my school.

Death Sentence?

At the tender age of 15, I figured that whatever Mrs. W said was worth listening to. This rule worked well until the day I mentioned I’d like to be a writer and she replied, “Forget about becoming a writer, you’ll never be good enough.”

The rule of listening to Mrs. W had been hardcoded into my brain and what had been heard could not be unheard. At first I felt shocked then angry at the certainty with which she uttered her judgment. And when the shock and anger fizzled out, I decided I would have to find my own way. She may be right in her conviction, but I had to at least try to do my dream justice.

And so I dabbled with writing short stories for a while and, being a complete novice, quickly got lost. The next baby step I could take was a joint honours degree in English and French to keep my dream of becoming a writer alive.

Dormant Dreams

Eventually, with the distractions of life and reality, I fell asleep, along with my dream of becoming a writer, much like Dorothy did in the poppy field on her way to see the wizard.

When I awoke, I’d become an IT professional, first a developer, then a development manager then a consultant.

In the last 4 years, I’ve made at least 20 attempts to write a book. Fiction or non-fiction, it didn’t really matter. To be a writer, I needed to write. For me, a successful outcome would be a book I wrote.

Back to the Future

Twenty five years later after that fateful conversation with Mrs. W, my dream became a reality.

On Wednesday, 6 June 2012, two days after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, my first book was born: ‘The Dream Team Nightmare’, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure aka Fighting Fantasy style game book where you, the protagonist, plays an Agile Coach tasked with helping to get a failing Agile team back on track.

The value of experiments

Thanks to my previous attempts (aka experiments), I’d finally produced a work consisting of elements of fiction AND non-fiction. What’s more, it’s the first ever game book in the Agile Community that I know of. And better still, in writing ‘The Dream Team Nightmare’, I imagined into existence a series close to my own heart called ‘Agile Adventures – When the journey matters as much as the destination’.

Dream BIG, live it little by little

So what’s my biggest take away from my 21 attempts in recent years at living my dream of becoming a writer? That we have everything we need to overcome the challenges we face to live our dreams. The key is to stay faithful to your dream, go easy on yourself and live a bit of the dream every day.

What’s the smallest step you can take right now to help make one of your dreams come true?

Beauty and the Beast

Some years ago, I went for lunch with an old friend who worked (and still works) for Microsoft. At the time, by way of introductions, he gave me one of his latest business cards. On it was written, ‘Change the world or go home‘.

Meet the Blue Monster

Holding that one business card in my hand signified my first encounter with the ‘Blue Monster’, a life changing event that I would remember always. Why? Because at that moment, I fell in love with an idea. Truly, madly, deeply. The kind of love you find in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The kind of love so powerful that begins its life as a children’s story, before becoming a Disney cartoon and then finally transforming into a Broadway musical created to move the world.

I was still clutching onto the business card when I got home because I wanted to share it with my friend TJ (Thoughtful Jim).

“So what do you think?” I remember asking eagerly, hoping that he would join me in the noble and worthy cause of ‘changing the world or go home’. Since resigning wasn’t an option for either of us (we both needed to work to pay the bills), I reasoned that the only option was to change the world through the work we do.

As usual, there was a long pause between telling or showing TJ something and getting a response.

Eventually, TJ replied. “The sentiment is noble indeed, but what would happen if everyone did what the card told them to? Everything would turn into chaos.”

“What would happen?!?” I said, my voice shrill with excitement. “We would change the world, bit by bit. One baby step at a time. It doesn’t take a lot when each of us is willing to do our bit. Just imagine!”

Remember the Blue Monster

That fateful day, TJ and I came to a mutual and silent agreement that we would each of us make of the Blue Monster what we will.

And to this day, the Blue Monster still has a special place in my heart. Over the years, the Blue Monster has even acquired a special place in our world. I know this because of the continued resonance of his creator’s subsequent work, judging by the way books like ‘Ignore Everybody’ and ‘Evil Plans’ have become successes.

Lessons from the Blue Monster

Thanks to Hugh McLeod sharing his thoughts on how we should ‘Ignore Everybody’ and have ‘Evil Plans’, I’ve learned to let out a caricature chuckle “Mu-HA-HA-HA!!!” in my head whenever I’ve pushed the Envelope of Assumptions just that bit further and nudged the Wall of Fear of Change by a micro-inch.

Become an ‘Investor in People’

We can each of us make a difference, no matter how small or how insignificant it may seem to others, so long it matters to us. Just as I choose my restaurants by voting with my feet, I choose to support and sponsor the people who inspire me with their beliefs and actions. Why? So that together, we can shape the future we want to be part of. A future for our children to be part of.

Look around you. Who do you support and what does that mean for our future?

The Greatest Love of All

“A world without love is a deadly place” – Helen Fisher

Player’s Log – Day 15 of my 30 Day Challenge

It should come as no surprise when you live in a place like the UK and the weather lady candidly forecasts a second month of wind and rain. To be fair, the weather isn’t always dreary in the UK, but the seasonal weather seems to redefine itself year on year.

Nonetheless, as I make my way to work this morning, I’m acutely aware that the weather outside pretty much reflects how I’m feeling inside. They warned me this would happen but that hasn’t made it easier. Foretelling what has to come offers no consolation when you find yourself caught in the eye of the storm.

I’m referring to what the organisers of the 30 Day Challenge call the “midway slump”. It’s the precise moment when the euphoria of living your dream (Day 15 and counting…) collides with the tarmac of reality. The moment when hope gives way under a crescendo of self-doubt and criticism.

As part of the 30 Day Challenge, I’ve taken to sharing my project with others, telling certain people about the crazy challenge I’ve set myself as well as ask for help. I figured I might as well use the opportunity to develop my stoicism.

What would you say?

There are usually 3 kinds of responses.

The first is one of support and encouragement. “Sure! I’ll review your book. It would be an honour to.” This is mostly followed by detailed feedback and input.

The second is one of silence from thin lips followed by a slight nod of the head which I take as a cue to change topics.

The third is one of destructive criticism and even outright condemnation. “I wouldn’t waste my time doing that if I were you,” such people would tell me knowingly.

Believe in “WE”

So what is my takeaway from these responses?

That you have to share your dreams with others to find people who share your dreams. And when you find each other, support one another.

That it’s up to each and everyone one of us to discover what matters to us even when we’re surrounded by people who don’t care.

That if we’re in the business of nurturing people, why do so many of us choose to destroy dreams instead of help them flourish?

What words or acts of nurture will you choose to use today?

On Becoming a Manager

Free Will or Predestination?

One of the most memorable quotes I’ve ever come across in terms of organisations is one from Peter Drucker who observed that “Organisations form and deform people.” This quote terrified me at first because I realised immediately that that could become my fate (or it was already too late). This thought, in turn, reminded me of the lengthy university literature debates we had on “free will vs predestination” (based on my term in 18th century French literature).

Eventually, my mind came back with a reply in response to Drucker’s remark and it’s been one of my guiding principles as a coach ever since. Just as it takes two to tango, the flip side of Drucker’s coin is this: “People allow themselves to be formed and deformed.”

With great power comes great responsibility

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of being passionate about what you do. This is especially important when it comes to managing people. It’s crucial that you care about people enough to create Win-Win situations because that’s your job as a manager.

Being a manager is about nurture not punishment. It’s about bringing the best out of people. It’s about learning to care for others as much as for yourself. You only have listen to the language a manager uses to identify which school of management they graduated from.

It’s also equally important to be sufficiently self-aware to know when you care too much. The danger of feeling too much could compromise your judgment and effectiveness.

The Power of Being Human

In the words of Uncle Ben of Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility”. All too often, we become so focused on personal gain that we forget our true purpose. Although we like to think ourselves brave and daring, we are secretly afraid of looking in the mirror our people hold up in front of us every time we interact with them.

The days of employing rudimentary techniques such as “carrot-and-stick” to create “successful” organisations are disappearing. How would you like to be treated like a donkey? When was the last time you read up on the latest people management techniques and applied them? How often do you ask your direct reports for open feedback? What improvement actions do you take and track to close the feedback loop? What do you do to become better today than you were yesterday every day?

Dare to Dream

“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” – Marianne Williamson

Player’s Log – Day 4 of my 30 Day Challenge

I promised to tell you a bit about my 30-day play project. It’s to publish a business novel with a twist based on my experiences as an Agile consultant-coach. On 31 May, I will launch the result of my endeavour. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I’ve had fun in creating it.

Daunting Dreams

I’ll be glad to finally set it free having cogitated over it since last December. The fact is, I first came up with the idea a few years ago, but lacked the courage and oomph to get it started, let alone get it finished. And whenever I managed to make a start (and there have been so many I’ve lost count), I quickly put it away, afraid that it would be a waste of my time and of other people’s.

Live Your Dreams

That was then, this is now. As part of the 30 Day Challenge, I’ve pledged to work on my play project for at least 20 minutes a day, 6 days a week, with a day of rest on the 7th. I’m applying much of what I’ve learned as a coach, from being gentle with myself to working incrementally and iteratively and it’s working.

With a Personal Purpose, Your Life will Flourish

Based on my experience so far, living your dream is one of the best tests of your personal agility. It requires you to apply much of what you know and believe in to get you going and keep you moving forward. There are many benefits. The most profound one is that it reinvigorates your personal sense of purpose.

Reflecting on my progress so far, I discover that my renewed sense of purpose has helped bring to life many more of my dreams, both at work and at home.

How can you breathe life into your dream today? What’s the smallest baby step you can take to bring you closer?

Who is Agile?

Yves Hanoulle, a fellow Agilista, started an intriguing book called “Who is Agile” to coincide with the celebration of Agile turning 10 years old in 2011. The latest version of the book features the profiles of 56 Agilists who answer a common set of questions. You can buy the book here and decide the price you pay!

To give you a flavour of what the book’s like, here’s the piece I wrote about myself submitted to Yves and his team. A big “Thank You” to Yves for making me think!

Portia in Wonderland

Who is Agile? Featuring Portia Tung

What is something people usually don’t know about you but has influenced you in who you are?

I didn’t always study and work in the field of IT. My first degree was in English and French during which I spent a year out in Paris, France as an English language assistant.

My most memorable moment was during my first lesson when an African young man asked me, in French, “Will you give me a lower grade because of the colour of my skin?”

My brief language assistant training hadn’t prepared me for this. I was so surprised by the question that I had to re-parse his question several times in my head to be certain I’d heard correctly. I’d grown up with prejudice in many different guises, so his question struck a chord.

And so I drew on my limited life lessons up to the tender age of 19 and replied gently, yet firmly, “When you are in my class, the only thing that matters is how much you want to learn. I will help you if you are willing and your grade will reflect your endeavour.”

Looking back, that year abroad marks the starting point of my passion for the love and science of lifelong learning. That’s when I began my lifelong pursuit of realising human potential, that in others as well as in myself.

If you would not have been in IT, what would have become of you?

Most probably a teacher and a writer related to social enterprise. In practice, I have similar roles in IT: as a trainer, coach and international conference speaker (presenting in English and sometimes even in French!) as well as being a blogger and storyteller.

As for the social enterprise element, I collaborate through giving and sharing what I have whenever I can by making my games available under the Creative Commons licence. It’s my small way of “doing good”. Great things can come from humble beginnings I’m told. My projects include: Agile FairytalesPlaymaking

What is your biggest challenge and why is it a good thing for you?

It’s tough to admit this, but my biggest challenge is myself. I’ve come to realise that the only thing standing between us and our dreams is ourselves. It’s easy to make excuses about why we don’t have the things we feel we deserve.

Using the concepts from Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”, I’ve come to realise that both our span of control and sphere of influence are much bigger than we think. If we put our heart, mind and body into our endeavours, we can achieve what we need to be happy.

I’ve also come to realise that the value of our life’s journey can be amplified with love, patience and understanding of others and, most importantly, of ourselves. After all, only you can change yourself for the better.

What drives you?

The thought of succumbing to the fate of an adult sea squirt. Did you know that once an adult sea squirt finds a rock or some place to live out the rest of its life, it ends up devouring its own brain and nervous system since it no longer has need to think and learn?

To avoid becoming a human zombie, you have to “use it or lose it”. This can be hard work at times and that’s why I invest so much effort in making learning fun. It keeps me growing regardless of which way the tide is flowing.

What is your biggest achievement?

To love what I do AND be doing what I love.

It’s taken me years to realise that I’d always had the power to create my dream job. Bit by bit, with each day that passes, I’m realising that dream to a greater degree. Work is the means by which I become more competent, develop my creativity and my ability to innovate. Most importantly, it’s the main vehicle by which I achieve my life’s purpose of serving others.

My work requires me to be many things, such as trainer, coach, speaker. It’s also a source of great inspiration for my blogging and storytelling.

I have a theory that for a human being to make the most of their human potential, they have to love what they do and do what they love. For most of us, one eventually leads to the other. In my opinion, these are the two pre-requisites for achieving “flow”. Flow, in turn, leads to achievement, excellence and fulfilment.

What is the last book you have read?

“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s about the journey and adventure of a woman experiencing a thrisis (a midlife crisis in one’s thirties). Elizabeth is a funny, quirky and talented storyteller. She tells it like it is, warts and all. Although I’m not a religious person, Elizabeth’s story has helped me better see the interconnections between spirituality and Systems Thinking, how we are all part of a greater whole. It has shown me how we can apply the principle of Global Optima, not just to our decisions and processes at work, but to our daily lives at at large.

I strongly recommend seeing and hearing Elizabeth Gilbert in action on

What question do you think I should also ask and what is the answer?

Q: What is your worldview?

A: “Enough is enough” by which I mean I think there is enough of what we need to go around. And if we choose to share, then we will discover there is actually plenty. That’s how I strive to operate at work and at home. Instead of hoarding resources, information and opportunities, I choose to share. I call it “sustainable philanthropy”.

What question of one of the co-authors do you also want to answer?

Q: Where do you go to learn? (From Jenni Jepsen)

A: It’s my modern day oracle. I type in the keyword/topic I’m most interested in at a given moment in time and end up on many adventures that span cultures, disciplines and experiences. My latest favourite Ted talk is one by Alain de Botton about “a gentler philosophy of success”.

Who should be the next person to answer these questions?

Martin Heider: A larger than life fun-seeking and appreciative coach who constantly challenges people to be the best they can be.

Katrin Elster: A fun-meister who’s crazy about creativity, people and play

Vera Peeters: For co-creating The XP Game, the first Agile game I ever played and marked the start of my personal and professional Agile adventure!

Pascal Van Cauwenberghe: For co-creating The XP Game and showing me that doing what you love is a reality we can all make happen if we choose to!