1970s to early 1980s Deep-seated understanding of STEM – pure science and mathematics student till my ‘A’ Levels.
Mid-1980s My preparation for the corporate world. As a student and graduate of School of Management, NUS majored in Finance and Operations Research (statistics & manufacturing)
Late 1980s My first job in the private sector for two years achieved a five-fold sales revenue increase for a property development company.
As I joined the workforce at first in the private sector and later in the public service, I discover that the tertiary training I had attended at the National University of Singapore, School of Management, Business Administration programme while it provided theoretical underpinnings of what can happen, it did not translate into actions I can use both as a leader and strategist. I began to sit with the question: “What drives the thinking behind our interactions with each other and the task at hand and how do we translate these into results for the team as well as beyond it?”
Early 1990s My career job in the Singapore Police Force, criminal intelligence, Head of Crime Statistics and Head of Intelligence Analysis for ten years. I learned that criminals stayed ahead of the law enforcement because they talked to each other. Was introduced by PS (MHA) to Peter Senge’s work when enlisted as the Ministry’s masterplanning team. Attended a first 1-week course in 1996. Completed one-year post-graduate programme in 2000 with Dr Danile Kim and his wife Ms Diane Cory, associates of Peter Senge at the Civil Service College.
Mid-Late 1990s My second career job, an internal consultant on The Fifth Discipline, proceeded to be the founder of network of practitioners of LO in Singapore which took me on practice stints in Asia to Hong Kong and India.
1996 I chanced the works by Peter Senge in 1996. I was placed within a masterplanning team with the Home Affairs Ministry in Singapore. To prepare us for the programme, sixty officers from across the Ministry attended a week-long course with Dr Daniel Kim, an associate of Dr Peter Senge. He was invited to conduct the programme by Mr Peter Chan, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry at that time.
As I underwent the programme, it began to answer for me the questions I had been holding on to for seven years prior. The answers stacked up for me, and since then, there has been no turning back. The work proved so formative and ground-breaking as it can get, for me, let us say, it has spoiled me for all other works that were to come after that. The work can explain any other works. That is putting it mildly.
1997-2008 Assigned as a lead facilitator for programmes to facilitate or train police officers in the understanding and use of the five disciplines.
1999 – 2002 Completed a year-long study on the five disciplines and their practices with Dr Daniel Kim and Diane Cory under the auspices of the Civil Service College. This programme prepares public officers to be internal consultants for the work for their organization. I graduated from the programme in 2000 while also acting as a teaching aide to my peers.
I Met Peter Senge in 2001 in Singapore. Inspired that research using data over time is an integral practice of the LO works.
Developed “the onion” in 2002, which says the ten system archetypes develop in a particular order.
2003 and 2008 During this period, my practice increasingly evolved from within my organization to include the use and application of the work across various organizations in the public sector as well as presented at conferences around the region in Asia including Vietnam Cambodia, Indonesia, India, and Hong Kong.
I also founded and set up a practitioners’ network in Singapore (the predecessor of SoL Singapore today) with a view to sharing the works beyond the public sector to all sectors in and around Singapore. I presented my early works of the onion at the Systems Thinking in Action Conference in 2006.
The practice increasingly involved shared spaces. This would include areas such as education, or regional conflicts, or more recently in the case of Botswana defining and working with persistent issues of national interests. I use these persistent issues as an entry point for the work with the national client.
Attended international conference on LO between 2006 and 2008. Was stunned by the deterioration of the Systems Thinking practice by emerging younger, less likely exposed to STEM skills.
These became my impetus to launch myself as an international consultant in the field with a focus to do research on national strategic concerns. Building up research practices continues to be a priority.
2005, 2008 The opportunity arose for me in 2005 and again in 2008, when the Government of Botswana invited me to conduct the first retreat session for their cabinet in 2005. The Head of the Public Service then saw the results of a systemic analysis that I did on their national plans and began taking well to the works.
In April 2005, received an invitation to lead the facilitation of the country’s first cabinet retreat. I then requested its past National Development Plans. Using their plans, prepared a causal structure that shows a plan in one area facilitates the growth of plan in another area of the organization. Continued the process till we created ONE causal loop. In doing so, causal factors that were not part of the plan were also included. When core retreat team members studied the causal structure they were stunned that despite the size of the retreat, the group could not see the entire causal structure and had only seen a part of it.
They became curious. How does someone do work like this? This spurred their interest in the five disciplines.
2008-2012 Spent fives years in Botswana from 2008 to 2012 training their leadership cadre of the public service in central and local government – over 1,000 employees to high-level modules of the five disciplines. While national data was not forthcoming, many frontiers were developed. Took another six years, to develop the first case study on unemployment in 2018. Creating jobs is the plan. The reason for the persistence of unemployment is the problem. When understood, and persistence is treated, like a catapult, the stone surpasses all expectations to exceed targets.
Decided to stay in Botswana as part of my assimilation to the region and Europe. Was curious to see the practice in my personal space … hence foraying into setting up a food manufacturing organization in 2012, and at this stage have integrated agriculture and retail value chains into manufacturing, in Botswana.
2013 I decided in 2013, to set up my practice and organization here in Botswana with a view to build three distinct arms of this work: training, research, and consultancy and focus on creating the processes required in building and handling the issue and on completing they become case studies. The time also allowed me to assimilate my personal experiences on the continent.
This lends itself well to the analogy of missing the forest for the trees. And that is why I began deliberately to learn to find ways to conduct the practice at national spaces (seeking out the forests). More here on my reflections: https://sheilasingapore.blog/national-systemic-study-programmes-sol/
In the meantime, I worked on building a team with the local capacity to do (https://pinnacleacademy.weebly.com/aboutus.html) these works jointly with future clients as they may happen. In 2018, I was primed in both. The process as well as the team. The name of the organization is called Systems Thinking Leadership Development Institution (STLDi).
2018 In the middle of 2018, an opportunity arose to study the state of national unemployment in Botswana. The study involved collecting data over a fifty-year period and covering demographics ranging from population, education attainments and performance of the economy by sectors. The study reached a good conclusion in early 2019 by February.
MY EARLY JOURNEY
I have a tertiary background in management but it was Senge‘s seminal works that allowed me to see better what a practice of management would look like, That was twenty six years ago and I have not turned back since.
The Shift There is a reason why I choose not to work in organizational spaces. It is deliberate. In my first ten years with this work, I attempted to build the practices of Systems Thinking and Shared Vision within the Singapore Police Force and we would inevitably hit a dead-end or a wall every time with that practice. The thinking of the system is always bigger (the forest) than the mandates of organizations that are within it (the trees).
At the criminal intelligence unit in the Force, I assumed positions at one point as the head of the Crime Statistics Branch and eventually as Head of the Intelligence Analysis Processing Division at the Immigration Intelligence Unit on secondment.
I eventually returned to the Force firstly as part of the doctrines unit at criminal intelligence where I was also tasked at writing the criminal intelligence master plan for the Home Affairs ministry. After ten years at intelligence, I moved and spent another eight years (from the year 2000) heading the unit tasked with building SPF’s capacity (training and consulting) on the works of Learning Organization and the five disciplines. This was housed at the Corporate Planning Division of PHQ.
I then became involved in drawing up processes and developing annual corporate work plans for the organization including facilitating meetings led by Commissioner and the Police Annual Conferences. But my focus was on understanding persistent issues officers faced on the ground, such as piling up of urgent files, natures of certain crimes, manpower turnover, assisting units to develop their organizational statements, and so on.
There was one thread, however, that held all of these tasks together for me.
MY TURNING POINT
To understand this, I would like to take us back to my stint at Crime Statistics. As I compiled the statistics on crime I would notice the behavior of the pattern of data over time, displayed a persistent nature as if despite the efforts of the Force and of the country, the patterns took on a deliberate course. Such patterns are evident in data that spans beyond twenty years. Such behaviours are not obvious with three or five years of data.
That intrigued me and I became curious about it. Three years later, I was in a workshop with Dr Daniel Kim and seeing as such the works of Learning Organization and Systems Thinking in particular. When I saw the behaviour over time graphs of the ten system archetypes, I began to understand the graphs I had seen as Head of Crime Statistics. That was the turning point for me and the work that I am doing currently.
MY CURRENT WORKS
The rest as we say is history including my journey halfway around the world where I was able to exercise and test my work at a national space. The country, people, and government of Botswana have been a kind ally in this space for me and it has allowed me to develop the first-ever study globally, using the tools of the Learning Organization on an issue of a persistent nature at a national scale. This involved research – the third arm of this work.
NEXT STEPS: Often the cause that influences persistent issues is not obvious and therefore the issue stays resistant to change. This affects and creates “victims of society” (be they retrenchments, difficulties in building entrepreneurship, capacity to work together or seeing beyond the obvious, narrowing the income inequalities, dealing with underlying tensions along different lines, willingness to flex the mind or innovate) as well as adding up costs to the nation. Searching for these causes is the focus of the work I do.
I would like at this point place an offer to present and share the study (click on the link here to access the study) that I did here in Botswana with you and/or a team. The study illustrates the use of the work I do on one such resistant issue for the country. Unemployment.
The country currently has possibly a million persons who are not employed formally and that is, three-quarters of its working population. While the outcome was obvious, the causes were not. Both the government and the people react to dealing with the pain of the problem. The number of non-traditional crimes such as stealing of copper cables and cattle (it is a major industry), money laundering, and drug peddling is therefore on the rise. Meanwhile, the government reacts by easing trade regulations and seeking out investors. The study goes on to present what could happen as a nation to turn it around. It needed rallying the nation but not before all of us see the underlying story together. A leader that facilitates systemic understanding is in a very unique position to play this role for the nation.
Could I arrange to set up the presentation of the study for you? If it allows you to see what the work can look like, that is a good first step in the process.