It’s Time To Ask “Why?”

by Patrick Liew on July 23, 2018

It’s Time To Ask “Why?”

Professor Rob Filback, my mentor in creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship taught me a simple but powerful technique to make sure I squeeze every lesson from a negative experience.

He taught me to respond to every failure by asking a series of at least 5 ‘Why’s.

For example: Why did I fail?

Why did it occur?

Why did I act wrongly?

Why did it turn out the way it did?

Why did I really fail?

Why did I really truly fail?

Let me share with you three examples of how this technique work.

In 1990, I was conned into selling an unproven product in an untested market.

To make matters worse, I was ignorant about its side effects.

Within a short period of time, I had many unhappy customers literally gathering at my doorsteps.

Potential law suits were piling up in both my real life and in my nightmares.

(Why?) I had trusted a so-called friend who sold me the product.

(Why?) I also realized I had not conducted sufficient research about the product.

(Why?) Even after the side effects were spotted, I did not analyze the growing problem.

(Why?) I did not preempt and prepare for the consequences.

(Why?) I was too proud and did not have the moral courage to stop the business promptly.

I learned that I should focus on my core competence.

Reflect on my strengths constantly and how they could be best used to meet the needs of the market.

Use the failure to compel me to dream again.

And to dream an even bigger dream and redesign the company to fulfill the dream.

In 1991, my partner and I made a commitment to use our talents to organize trainings for world-class gurus and to make them easily available, accessible and affordable to ordinary persons on the street.

Subsequently, I realized that retaining world-class speakers came with a high price-tag.

Meanwhile I had invested time, money and other resources to restructure the company.

(Why?) I did not conduct a feasibility study of the new business model.

(Why?) In addition, I did not source information from any expert or practitioner.

(Why?) I did not even conduct any market testing to fine-tune the idea.

(Why?) I did not have a plan to achieve best practice.

(Why?) And I did not raise enough money to run the business.

However, I learned that if I believed in a dream, I could resolve the major challenges and make it work.

And also realized the power of collective creativity and wisdom (and avoid the downsides of crowdsourcing and crowd-mania).

My partner and I brainstormed and came out with an idea to book the Singapore Indoor Stadium to run the seminar, an unprecedented initiative.

We learned to develop a system for running large-scale seminars which we implemented in major cities across Southeast Asia and eventually, throughout the world.

In 1996, I invested our hard earned money to develop a major property development and lost all my savings.

(Why?) I was caught on the wrong side of the business cycle.

(Why?) I was forced to liquidate my assets.

(Why?) It created a huge cash flow problem for my business.

(Why?) I did not develop an effective financial budget or monitor the cash flow efficiently.

(Why?) I should not have stretched our limited resources and compete in an unfamiliar industry.

I learned to redesign my business model to generate better margins and improve our cash flow.

Realized the importance of having integrity and providing good service to raise support for the business.

Discovered that failure did not happen accidentally. Along the way, many small mistakes were frequently left ignored or unresolved and these wrongdoings snowballed to become a huge problem.

I learned to develop risk management systems to ensure that my company would do the right thing and do it in the right way.

Our company became arguably the largest personal development seminar organizer in the world. We also have a majority stake in a publicly-listed company on ASX.

We continue to touch lives, bless families, enhance communities, and make our world a better home.

Thank you for the 5 ‘Why’s and for the lessons from Professor Failure!


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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