Sunday, October 27, 2013

Understanding the psychology, behavior & values of the rich & would-be rich

By Wilson Lee Flores

Understanding the psychology, behavior and values of the rich & would-be rich

I'd like to live as a poor man with lots of money.  --- Pablo Picasso

            The following is a condensed version of my two-hours speech at the 2nd Financial Advisors Congress on October 24, 2013 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati City:

Image below is from a mobile phone picture taken by Krisell Pedro and which she posted on Facebook, photo below showed the event host introducing me before my speech:

Almost everyone wants to be rich or daydream to be rich, but not all think, behave and act to be rich. I believe we are what we repeatedly think, what we repeatedly believe and  what we repeatedly dare to dream to become.

Differences between the rich and not rich, kinds of rich people

Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said: "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” True! That is why we should all aspire to be rich.

Remember this---The world isn’t fair, life is not fair. In our Philippine society, if you are rich you are “petite”, but if poor you are “bansot”. If you are rich you have “scoliosis”, if poor you are “kuba”. If you are rich, you suffered a "nervous breakdown" due to "tension and stress", but if poor you are "sira ang ulo". If rich you are eccentric", if poor you are labelled as "may toyo sa ulo", "may topak" or "may sayad". If you are rich and not making good grades in school, you are described as a “slow learner”, but if poor you are “bobo” or “gunggong”!

For those who claim that “money cannot buy happiness”, the model Bo Derek once said: "Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping."

            Seriously, before I discuss the mindset, behavior and values of the rich, let me first define the different kinds of rich people. The late Enrique Zobel of the Ayala Group and Bank of the Philippine Islands in the 1970s era of student demonstrations, he said in a speech that he could categorize the rich in the Philippines then into three groups – the “profligate rich, the idle rich and the working rich”.

            In this speech, I am tackling only those who are in the “working rich” category, including those who are the investing rich, the entrepreneurial rich and also those people already on the way to becoming rich.

Whether as financial planners, wealth managers, insurance brokers, branch managers, private bankers, trust officers, securities brokers, investment solicitors, and other professionals who offer financial advice and sell financial products, plus me who is a business columnist, all of us are missionaries about the gospel of wealth.

Image below of Tao Zhugong, the first taipan 2,500 years ago, image sourced from

            Based on my extensive interviews and studies of the rich, including my personal experiences as an SME entrepreneur who started from scratch because our side of the family wasn’t given our share of the inheritance, here are some ideas on the rich and would-be rich:

  1. Focus on wellsprings or sources of cash flow, not just on assets--- Many people think that being rich is about owning lots of assets, I think it is better to own many wellsprings or sources of cash flow to be truly rich. This was a principle of my self-made paternal great-great-grandfather Dy Han Kia who became rich in 19th century Manila by establishing five lumber and furniture-making companies.

  1. Have an investing mindset. --- It is not enough to have huge incomes, what is key to wealth is to have an investing mindset. 
  1. A small fortune comes from frugality and hard work, a big fortune is from the heavens.---My late educator mother Mary Young Siu-Tin told me this old Chinese proverb. What it means for us is this: by sheer hard work and non-stop thrift, we can attain a minimum level of wealth in our lifetime.

  1. Smart people know how to utilize loan, or other people’s money, to grow wealth---My former Ateneo accounting class professor, the banker Maurice Lim said this to our class before and he is right. 

  1. Easy money is often easily lost.--- John Gokongwei, Jr. once told me this in passing, years ago before the rise of Napoles and her extravagant daughter. Moral lesson? Don’t go for short-cuts, don’t go for get-rich-quick schemes.

  1. Take care of your shinyong or creditworthiness---Pay loans on time, safeguard your integrity among bankers, creditors and your suppliers. Many of the rich flourished even without capital, their capital was their shinyong.

  1. Think of debt or loan as an obligation, not as a windfall or income. --- We shouldn’t also be addicted to too much and unnecessary debts. Mad magazine once said, which can apply to many of us too: “The only reason a great many American families don't own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.”

  1. Do not be afraid of discomfort for yourself or your family members, this advice is true even for self-made entrepreneurs who are raising children thinking they don’t want the kids “to suffer like they did before”. Don’t forget: hardships, discomfort, injustices and struggles are part of the character-building process for many of the self-made rich people in the world.

  1. Take care of the small change, not just the big amounts. "A penny saved is a penny earned," said Benjamin Franklin.

  1. Do not gamble, except calculated risks in business. Nobody wins in gambling except the casinos. Do not follow example of my great-great-grandfather’s nephew and successor Dy Chau Si, nicknamed “Lau Ah-Si” who gambled and lost 18 commercial shops in one evening in 19th century Manila.

  1. Become rich by helping enrich others.--- “Never forget: the secret of creating riches for oneself is to create them for others,” said Sir John Templeton. We enrich ourselves if we can help enrich not only our clients, our business associates, investors and suppliers, but also our employees. China Bank has one of the best corporate slogans: “Your success is our business”

  1. Don’t forget the ability to demand payment or collect. --- Lucio Tan years ago told me this one principle from Tao Zhugong (722-476 BC), whose former name was Fan Li. He was a statesman who became a tycoon 2,500 years ago in ancient China through business and his wife Xi Shi was also one of the world’s most beautiful women. Generating a lot of sales is not enough or is nothing, if we do not collect well. Tao Zhugong’s 24 business principles are studied by many overseas Chinese entrepreneurs worldwide.

  1. Be fair to people in business dealings. Andrew Gotianun and his wife Mercedes Tan Gotianun of Filinvest Group and East West Bank told me this phrase, which they said has guided the way they do business for decades. I also learned this from my realty client before the late Jane Mallare, wife of ethnic Chinese lawyer and World News publisher Atty. Florencio Mallare.  

  1. Low profit margins and big sales volumes. --- This is an old Chinese business strategy, look at SM stores of Henry Sy family, the Cebu Pacific Air and the former Sun Cellular of John Gokongwei, Jr.

  1. Invest in people to reap riches --- “If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people, ” said an old Chinese proverb.

  1. Be an iconoclast, think differently from the crowd---  “Buy when everyone else is selling and hold until everyone else is buying. That’s not just a catchy slogan. It’s the very essence of successful investing,” said J. Paul Getty, who was named by the 1966 Guinness Book of Records as the world's richest private citizen, worth an estimated $1.2 billion (approximately $8.6 billion in 2012).  “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful,” advised Warren Buffet, today the world’s richest investor.
Warren Buffet image below, sourced from

  1. Customer is king, customer service is important--- “Customers are jade; merchandise is grass,” said a Chinese proverb

  1. Riches and big companies start from small --- “The loftiest towers rise from the ground,” this is an old Chinese proverb quoted by pre-war Iloilo’s immigrant tycoon Pedro Marquez Lim to his grandson John L. Gokongwei, Jr. when the latter was a little boy walking in Calle Rosario (now Quintin Paredes Street), Binondo, Manila and marvelling at the buildings. Let us patiently build up riches from small beginnings and persevere.

  1. Delayed self-gratification is key to riches & success---Save and think for the long-term, if necessary, self-sacrifice for the future generations. The Hollywood actor Will Smith hit the bull’s eye, when he said: "Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."

  1. Non-stop education is source of riches and success. Primacy of education is rooted in the moral teachings of the philosopher Confucius. I am not referring to just the act of collecting school diplomas, but of non-stop learning, reading, asking. Brian Tracy said: “Today the greatest single source of wealth is between your ears.”

  1. The goal is not money itself, but excellence, productivity and fulfilment. Money is only a scorecard.  Why do many of the so-called “working rich” keep on working still up to now, it is not about the money, it’s the thrill, the sense of adventure and fulfilment in creating and making the world a better place through one’s business and vocation. The great philosopher Confucius said: “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

  1. Success is our birthright and destiny, we just have to struggle to claim it. Every crisis, failure or obstacles are only temporary setbacks or aberrations, because we’ll soon flourish! Don’t forget: The poorest man on earth is not the person without money, but those without a dream.

  1. Giving is real wealth--- Not only do I personally believe that being generous to others is the best way to spend and truly enjoy riches, I also believe generosity also brings us so much unexpected blessings and more wealth too.

Erich Fromm said: “Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much.” The self-made tycoon Andrew Carnegie said: “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” I’m not religious, but the Bible also said in Acts 20: 35: “The Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

Immigrant tycoon & philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, image below from


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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Harvard students by the hundreds are now studying ancient Chinese philosophy, for success & better lives

Why hundreds of Harvard students now studying ancient Chinese philosophy to change their lives for the better?  

How to be truly successful and enjoy a balanced life of tranquility? Let us learn from the world's oldest living civilization with over 5,000 years of recorded history. The wisdom of ancient Chinese philosophy and Confucian moral teachings offer the rest of the world priceless insights, more non-Chinese like hundreds of Harvard University students in the United States are learning all these nowadays. It is not only the "economic miracle" of China and Asia which should be the reason for us to study Chinese culture, but its unique Chinese philosophy and diverse ideas.

Let me share this interesting article from The Atlantic authored by Christine Gross-Loh on October 8, 2013: 

Image below of America's oldest and most prestigious Harvard University, sourced from 

Below is image of Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat playing the role of the great teacher and philosopher Confucius, image sourced from  

Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?
The professor who teaches Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory claims, "This course will change your life."


Picture a world where human relationships are challenging, narcissism and self-centeredness are on the rise, and there is disagreement on the best way for people to live harmoniously together.

It sounds like 21st-century America. But the society that Michael Puett, a tall, 48-year-old bespectacled professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, is describing to more than 700 rapt undergraduates is China, 2,500 years ago.

Puett's course Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory has become the third most popular course at the university. The only classes with higher enrollment are Intro to Economics and Intro to Computer Science. The second time Puett offered it, in 2007, so many students crowded into the assigned room that they were sitting on the stairs and stage and spilling out into the hallway. Harvard moved the class to Sanders Theater, the biggest venue on campus.

Prof. Michael Puett, image below sourced from

Why are so many undergraduates spending a semester poring over abstruse Chinese philosophy by scholars who lived thousands of years ago? For one thing, the class fulfills one of Harvard's more challenging core requirements, Ethical Reasoning. It's clear, though, that students are also lured in by Puett's bold promise: “This course will change your life.”

His students tell me it is true: that Puett uses Chinese philosophy as a way to give undergraduates concrete, counter-intuitive, and even revolutionary ideas, which teach them how to live a better life.  Elizabeth Malkin, a student in the course last year, says, “The class absolutely changed my perspective of myself, my peers, and of the way I view the world.” Puett puts a fresh spin on the questions that Chinese scholars grappled with centuries ago. He requires his students to closely read original texts (in translation) such as Confucius’s Analects, the Mencius, and the Daodejing and then actively put the teachings into practice in their daily lives. His lectures use Chinese thought in the context of contemporary American life to help 18- and 19-year-olds who are struggling to find their place in the world figure out how to be good human beings; how to create a good society; how to have a flourishing life.

Puett began offering his course to introduce his students not just to a completely different cultural worldview but also to a different set of tools. He told me he is seeing more students who are “feeling pushed onto a very specific path towards very concrete career goals” than he did when he began teaching nearly 20 years ago.  A recent report shows a steep decline over the last decade in the number of Harvard students who are choosing to major in the humanities, a trend roughly seen across the nation’s liberal arts schools. Finance remains the most popular career for Harvard graduates. Puett sees students who orient all their courses and even their extracurricular activities towards practical, predetermined career goals and plans.

Prof. Michael Puett of Harvard, image below sourced from

Puett tells his students that being calculating and rationally deciding on plans is precisely the wrong way to make any sort of important life decision. The Chinese philosophers they are reading would say that this strategy makes it harder to remain open to other possibilities that don’t fit into that plan. Students who do this “are not paying enough attention to the daily things that actually invigorate and inspire them, out of which could come a really fulfilling, exciting life,” he explains. If what excites a student is not the same as what he has decided is best for him, he becomes trapped on a misguided path, slated to begin an unfulfilling career. Puett aims to open his students’ eyes to a different way to approach everything from relationships to career decisions. He teaches them that: 

The smallest actions have the most profound ramifications. Confucius, Mencius, and other Chinese philosophers taught that the most mundane actions can have a ripple effect, and Puett urges his students to become more self-aware, to notice how even the most quotidian acts—holding open the door for someone, smiling at the grocery clerk—change the course of the day by affecting how we feel.

That rush of good feeling that comes after a daily run, the inspiring conversation with a good friend, or the momentary flash of anger that arises when someone cuts in front of us in line—what could they have to do with big life matters? Everything, actually. From a Chinese philosophical point of view, these small daily experiences provide us endless opportunities to understand ourselves. When we notice and understand what makes us tick, react, feel joyful or angry, we develop a better sense of who we are that helps us when approaching new situations. Mencius, a late Confucian thinker (4th century B.C.E.), taught that if you cultivate your better nature in these small ways, you can become an extraordinary person with an incredible influence, altering your own life as well as that of those around you, until finally “you can turn the whole world in the palm of your hand.”

Recent research into neuroscience is confirming that the Chinese philosophers are correct: Brain scans reveal that our unconscious awareness of emotions and phenomena around us are actually what drive the decisions we believe we are making with such logical rationality. According to Marianne LaFrance, a psychology professor at Yale, if we see a happy face for just a fraction of a second (4 milliseconds to be exact), that’s long enough to elicit a mini emotional high. In one study viewers who were flashed a smile—even though it was shown too quickly for them to even realize they had seen it—perceived the things around them more positively.

Decisions are made from the heart. Americans tend to believe that humans are rational creatures who make decisions logically, using our brains. But in Chinese, the word for “mind” and “heart” are the same. Puett teaches that the heart and the mind are inextricably linked, and that one does not exist without the other. Whenever we make decisions, from the prosaic to the profound (what to make for dinner; which courses to take next semester; what career path to follow; whom to marry), we will make better ones when we intuit how to integrate heart and mind and let our rational and emotional sides blend into one.  Zhuangzi, a Daoist philosopher, taught that we should train ourselves to become “spontaneous” through daily living, rather than closing ourselves off through what we think of as rational decision-making. In the same way that one deliberately practices the piano in order to eventually play it effortlessly, through our everyday activities we train ourselves to become more open to experiences and phenomena so that eventually the right responses and decisions come spontaneously, without angst, from the heart-mind.

If the body leads, the mind will follow. Behaving kindly (even when you are not feeling kindly), or smiling at someone (even if you aren’t feeling particularly friendly at the moment) can cause actual differences in how you end up feeling and behaving, even ultimately changing the outcome of a situation.
While all this might sound like hooey-wooey self-help, much of what Puett teaches is previously accepted cultural wisdom that has been lost in the modern age. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do,” a view shared by thinkers such as Confucius, who taught that the importance of rituals lies in how they inculcate a certain sensibility in a person.  In research published in Psychological Science, social psychologist Amy Cuddy and her colleagues found that when we take a power stance (stand with our legs apart, arms thrust out, taking up space), the pose does not only cause other people to view us as more confident and powerful; it actually causes a hormonal surge that makes us become more confident.

At the end of each class, Puett challenges his students to put the Chinese philosophy they have been learning into tangible practice in their everyday lives. “The Chinese philosophers we read taught that the way to really change lives for the better is from a very mundane level, changing the way people experience and respond to the world, so what I try to do is to hit them at that level. I’m not trying to give my students really big advice about what to do with their lives. I just want to give them a sense of what they can do daily to transform how they live.” Their assignments are small ones: to first observe how they feel when they smile at a stranger, hold open a door for someone, engage in a hobby. He asks them to take note of what happens next: how every action, gesture, or word dramatically affects how others respond to them. Then Puett asks them to pursue more of the activities that they notice arouse positive, excited feelings. In their papers and discussion sections students discuss what it means to live life according to the teachings of these philosophers.

Once they’ve understood themselves better and discovered what they love to do they can then work to become adept at those activities through ample practice and self-cultivation. Self-cultivation is related to another classical Chinese concept: that effort is what counts the most, more than talent or aptitude. We aren’t limited to our innate talents; we all have enormous potential to expand our abilities if we cultivate them. You don’t have to be stuck doing what you happen to be good at; merely pay attention to what you love and proceed from there. Chinese philosophers taught that paying attention to small clues “can literally change everything that we can become as human beings,” says Puett.  

To be interconnected, focus on mundane, everyday practices, and understand that great things begin with the very smallest of acts are radical ideas for young people living in a society that pressures them to think big and achieve individual excellence. This might be one reason why, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education, interest in Chinese philosophy is taking off around the nation—not just at Harvard. And it’s a message that’s especially resonating with those yearning for an alternative to the fast track they have been on all their lives.

One of Puett’s former students, Adam Mitchell, was a math and science whiz who went to Harvard intending to major in economics. At Harvard specifically and in society in general, he told me, “we’re expected to think of our future in this rational way: to add up the pros and cons and then make a decision. That leads you down the road of ‘Stick with what you’re good at’”—a road with little risk but little reward. But after his introduction to Chinese philosophy during his sophomore year, he realized this wasn’t the only way to think about the future. Instead, he tried courses he was drawn to but wasn’t naturally adroit at because he had learned how much value lies in working hard to become better at what you love. He became more aware of the way he was affected by those around him, and how they were affected by his own actions in turn. Mitchell threw himself into foreign language learning, feels his relationships have deepened, and is today working towards a master’s degree in regional studies. He told me, “I can happily say that Professor Puett lived up to his promise, that the course did in fact change my life.”

CHRISTINE GROSS-LOH is the author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us (Avery, 2013)

Image below of Confucius quotation in ancient Chinese calligraphy and its English translation, sourced from