Friday, December 23, 2005

Strictly OPEN business

20050814_bretagne2005_007I received
feedback from visitors  who asked me why I would not confine this blog to
"strictly business matters". I appreciate honest feedback so first of all a big thank you.

For me, Open Business is about passionate
, about curiosity, about exploration, about discovery and
about action. All these things require one core ingredient: humans. Competent, balanced, motivated, positive, energetic, driven, passive, tired, happy, sad... people. Variety. Talent. Movement. What the authors of Funky Business call "core competents" and I firmly believe there is a place for all in this world. Go out an stake your claim!

This is the world of alex Inc., and "strictly business"
is what I do, no matter if some posts seems "broader" (whatever that means).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Kipling's invitation

20051120_aramis_00620051118_aramis_004I spent some time with my new business advisor, Aramis my cat, reflecting about the intense moments of the past decade of my life and about things that I find moving in the world. About sad and violent leadership, success and failure, the death penalty in our world's most advanced nation, useless wars, priceless sparks of peace, advances, major and minor catastrophes... Life, the Universe and Everything. There is a poem of R. Kipling that should be read by leaders, managers, politicians, researchers, artists, employees, freelance experts, social workers, doctors... everyone because it is a tremendous resource for a more peaceful and harmonious world (within first and outside next, not the other way round as some of our leaders do):



If you can keep your head when all about you

 Are loosing
theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

 But make
allowance for their doubting you,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

 Or being lied about,
don't give way to hating,

Or being hated, don't look too good, nor talk too wise:


If you can dream - and not make dreams you master;

 If you can think
- and not make drams your master;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

 And treat those
two imposters just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

 Twisted by
knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave life to, broken,

 And stoop and
build 'em up with worn-out tools;


If you can make one heap of all your winnings

 And risk it on
one turn of pitch and toss,

And loose, and start again at your beginnings

 And never
breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

 To serve your
turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

 Except the Will
which says to them: "Hold on!"


If you can talk with crowds and keep you virtue,

 Or walk with
Kings - nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

 If all men count
with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

 With sixty
seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

 And - which is
more - you will be a Man, my son!


R. Kipling

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Moving towards > Moving away from

Movingawayfrom_2Dealing with a situation that is unsatisfactory is not necessarily an easy task if a person or an organisation is in a frame of mind that focuses on the idea that they want to MOVE AWAY from a problem. Of course, building awareness that an issue exists and taking some distance from it to assess the situation is necessary. Only, the solution does not come from focusing very intensely on the problem expressing a desire to move away from it. In fact, the more energy one puts in thinking about a problem the more this problem becomes powerful in everyday life. As ever, more of the same (re)action brings more of the same (unsatifactory) results: having more of the same attitude or performing more intensely (ineffective) actions won't work.
Movingtowards_4This is where some transformational work is required. This change can be pretty deep if the person or the organization is determined to overcome the unsatisfactory situation. The transformation involves the development of a mindset of MOVING TOWARDS a properly defined objective.

That's fascinating and challenging work to accomplish with people and human organizations and it is often a profoundly enriching journey. At the end of the day we can realise we create our hells and our paradises right here on planet Earth.

These last few weeks I have had a number of discussions around problematic situations both with individuals and with organizations. I find a recurrent pattern in that when people are faced with a problem they tend to feed (too much) energy into the problem and sometimes have trouble doing something (radically) different to sort things out for themselves. And you know what? For someone to transform an unsatisfactory situation, it takes true commitment and a lot of courage, without which no "helper" in the world can do anything for the person in trouble.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Simplicity & design: food for thought

Holidays_martinique_2004_00032Nature is a good inspiration for simplicity, functionality and good design. Flowers are one manifestation of good natural design, at the same time beautiful and functional (flowers are in fact the reproductive organs of a plant, so they do have a very vital function).

Now, I personally consider design to be a wide or transversal discipline that is not solely confined to the way physical items look. Design is also how a service is being performed and there is a particular area that I like to call business design, which involves deliberate thought about the identity, the values, the capabilities and the operating mode of a business in an endeavour to make the whole harmonious.

There is a very interesting article in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review, which deals with business design and complexity; the title of the article is "Innovation versus Complexity: What is Too Much of a Good Thing". The article makes a good job in showing how business end up stacking new components, services, options, products, alliances... in a more or less random way. A bit like Lego parts assembled together in a totally haphazard manner or at least in a way that reflect the history of the organization but not necessarily the necessities of the present situation. Taking that point into account, it is interesting to combine it with lines of thought of innovation theory that claim the imperative to combine creation and destruction or even suggest to tear down a part of something in order to create a new form better suited to current realities.

Extremely interesting, because then what immediately follows from this is the question of HOW an organization can actually perform that and change, which brings us to the post of a couple of weeks ago on change management. And in an essentially chaotic world, in which organization is often an emergent phenomenon, the tools need to be chosen carefully and applied skillfully  to include all aspects of business starting with the human factor.

Monday, December 5, 2005

Interesting comparison

Sp3220050808121353_1I recently received an email comparing the salaries of ministers and parliamentarians to the average income of the "general population", in a European country I would rather not name. Naming the country is not that relevant I think because the conclusions are valid for all mediacracies. Mediacracies are former democracies in which the power of the people was insidiously replaced by the power of powerful media serving particular interest groups by shaping public opinion and offering biased news. Most western countries have become or are about to become mediacracies in this beginning of XXIst century.

The data is interesting because it shows that the rulers earn over 15 times more than the average and likely 30 times more than the lowest incomes. The question is how can the rulers possibly understand the life their people live, how can leadership be compasionate when there is such a spread in wealth between those who rule and those who are being ruled?

While I find the data interesting, I dislike the exercise because it can bring arguments in favour of extremists who claim we should dismantle the "establishment" to create some sort of new order.  Sarkozy's and W's Brave New World... When examining the new order these people offer, its similarities with the worst totalitarian regimes of Europe's long History are striking.

Let us beware of "simple solutions" for they usually don't work and cause a lot of misery.

Friday, December 2, 2005

What's heresy?

Ap_qmsymbol_1We live times in which thinking along the lines of "official truth" is good for the individual's welfare. Now, even the way History should be taught is defined by governments, like for example in France. For the French government the positive role of colonisation MUST (sic!) be taught at school. That's less than two weeks after the turmoil in their suburbs. France who was teaching lessons of freedom, democracy and respect of civil liberties to W's America...

Anything other than the official, soviet-style truth is called heresy. And heresy is a "bad" thing nowdays. But what is the original meaning of heresy? Heresy comes from αιρεσις, which used to mean choice in Ancient Greece.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Requirements, objectives and achievement

P1010021thumbKnowing what you want for yourself is the absolute prerequisite to making it happen. True for people as it is true for organizations. And I know it seems like a pretty trivial statement. Only it is so rare in reality that I thought it useful to post a few thought on that.

The human mind is a great tool. A compass that will guide its owner depending on what the owner asks it to look for and to build. When several people belonging to an organization, be it a company or a project, have a clear picture of what they jointly want to achieve and what each individual is in charge of delivering, then the collective (un)consciousness will help the team achieve the objective. And what teams really need is specific objectives as well as stories and visions that can appeal to their imagination, to their hearts and to their souls. It is all part of work and project design... and I personally feel design is the all-important factor of success today.

Requirements are really important in IT and properly formulated personal objectives make a world of a difference for the individual. Only the exact picture of the required result cannot be built overnight or in one iteration. And it is not solely confined to the field of analytical thinking. Imagination, creativity and dreams are also core ingredients. That is why agile development methods, iterative processes and approaches like the V-model make sense in IT. That is also why the criteria for proper formulation of objectives (see previous post on this blog) as defined by NLP make a lot of sense... and actually help people be who they really are, achieve what really matters to them and overall be happy with the life they choose to live.

Manifestations of clear objectives and requirements built with heart and mind are…

  • outstanding product or service design,

  • talent > procedures, rules, rigid hierarchies,

  • software can be tested and works amazingly,

  • people feel they are on a track that is a true reflection of who they really are,

  • companies achieve the extraordinary potential they have and amaze us (see Skype),

  • big companies keep moving and creating as if their existence was at stake... which is of course the case IMHO,

  • parents trust the path chosen by their kids,

  • democracy works,

  • countries sometimes achieve extraordinary rates of development (e.g. Singapore thanks to the clarity of vision of Lee Kuan Yew, or post-WWII germany with Konrad Adenauer’s policies, or France in the 1960s with de Gaulle’s ambition…)

  • ... and much, much more... stuff that is mostly the exact opposite of what we get in the evening news

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Cool bank

Befr_logoIn one of my current projects, I have the privilege of working for a very special customer: a bank that strives to make a difference on sustainable development. Yes, the words "bank" and "sustainable development" are in the same sentence here!

This is the kind of profiles I love: passionate commitment, unusual paths, universal ambitions, action for the sake of something that makes sense for more than just a few people, the aim to include rather than to exclude... Triodos have been around for the past 25 years and a quarter of a century ago they were a start-up doing something radically different in the amazingly selfish, sharkish and self-satisfied world of financial services. This is some cool bank!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Quote of the day

"There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self." - Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Question of the day

Ap_qmsymbolWe live times in which self-righteous, self-appointed defenders of freedom and democracy and self-proclaimed promoters of a peculiar type of order, try to convince us to abandon our individual freedom in exchange for more "security". These great men, whether they are called Sarkozy, Blair or W. Bush, offer to be on watch for us... but they claim they need a clear mandate...

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Who will watch the watchers? as Aldous Huxley put it over half a century ago.

And this question can be subdivided into several other questions... of course!

Were NATO assets used to jail people illegally in Kosovo? Did the defenders of human rights and international order violate elementary human rights? Do we feel safer with their flying prisons, their concentration camps and their expensive war? Is a blow job in the Oval Office worse than a blunt violation of every single value the free people of the planet stand for? ...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Very cool company

Sp3220051126211851A couple of weeks ago I tried a new service of electronic ticketing provided by Mocom, a start-up from Luxembourg.

What a cool experience this is!

Imagine buying your concerts online whenever you like (24/24, 7/7, 365/365) and having them delivered almost instantly to your cell phone. Imagine that to get inside a concert hall, all that is needed is for the screen of your cell phone to be scanned at the entrance. Well, all this is now reality. That is what Mocom lets you do and to them a ticket can be nothing else but an m-ticket. The whole system works beautifully well: it took me less than a minute to have 6 m-tickets scanned.

Really cool service from a very cool company I met at Technoport, the tech incubator of Luxembourg. The way they've developed their platform allows them to handle single tickets, group tickets, loyalty cards, membership cards, blocks of tickets for a limited number of accesses to a service (underground, gym club...) and much more... So, I would not be surprised to see m-tickets powered by Mocom in a number of places in Europe over the coming year or so.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Funky business

Funkybusiness This is definitely an interesting book to read. The authors convincingly outline the dynamics of today's economy as it edges closer to a market driven, knowledge hungry space shaped by the combined forces of cooperation and smart competition, where you and I are freelance agents, autonomous companies, brands. Me Inc. as the authors like Tom Peters claim. And Me Inc. has to be a brand that generates powerful positive emotions. Me Inc. must be an experience customers love.

On the negative side of the book: the extremism of the authors in making their case of a society of individuals who are fully in charge of their fate and who "are what they do", who "are their projects", who "are their contracts".  It does make sense to question the ways in which labour relations, contracts, business deals, employer-employee dynamics were organized for the industrial age. However, that does not necessarily mean that welfare systems should disappear or that as a society we should stop caring for those of us who are impaired temporarily or permanently to take care of their interests alone. In addition to that, as an NLP practitioner I have hard time accepting that people can ever be what they do. A projet, a professional activity, human behaviour are not tantamount to identity. And while I agree that our jobs will be more and more project based, temporary, uncertain, changing and defined by the benefits they bring to the customer, I think there is a way to be passionate, committed, valuable to a project, loved by the customer and to have tons of fun without necessarily reducing the extreme and unique beauty of the individual to that individual's activity.

There are a few other things in the book I feel skeptical about, like for example the assertion that the role of Government is more or less irrelevant, that the nation state's ability to influence events is more or less negligible and the creation of an elusive factor called "the forces of funk" to justify phenomena that would be worth studying.

Overall though it is an excellent read and good food for thought that should be a good introduction to the Information Age and the knowledge economy.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


In one of my very first posts on this blog, I wrote about this Brussels based lawyer who does not believe the Internet changed or will change anything to distribution of content, products and services.

Every single thing that was predicted in the late nineties about the effects of the Internet will happen if it has not already happened.

Everything. And more. Period!

Earthcover If you are interested in a good projection of how the world could look like in terms of uses of technology (digital cameras, wireless telephony, content distribution over the Internet and overinformation), and also in terms of ecology, you should read Earth by David Brin. It's brilliant because it's science fiction with a time horizon that many of us will hopefully live, just 60-80 years in the future. Earth was written in the early nineties and it speaks of a world in which just about any individual has a digital camera and is able to trasmit images anywhere on the globe; it tells of a world in which there are thousands of different sources of information which are ranked by its users for credibility. Earth is about a word in which people are aware of the fact that no news can be taken for true without some sort of verification. A world in which Fox and Murdoch cannot manipulate a nation of 200 million souls without being punished. A world in which the potential for a million small manipulators of information is present. And that triggers the creation of a process of permanent review. Very interesting...


Od_anim_logo_strapopenDemocracy is a news site about global politics that applies the principles of open-source to journalism. The publication is an open forum with contributors in many countries, offering original viewpoints from which to see events shaping global politics. The way in which the site establishes logical links between past events such as the Nuremberg trials and current affairs and its way of challenging generally accepted truths make openDemocracy a very interesting source to use.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Free trade, fair trade and human development

Gardenia_00006_1Why do we have global negotiations on free trade and nothing on fair trade? After nearly half a century of free trade agreements, most of us have come to understand the benefits of free trade for economic development. However, free trade should be a two-way street in order to foster development for all participants. And development is more than just growth of GDP and GDP per capita. Development is also and perhaps mainly schools, hospitals, concert halls, theaters, books, libraries, universities, freedom of speech, free press, a fair government, limited influence from big corporations, social protection systems, health care, high-quality public schools, secure neighbourhoods... And the best system to have all that is the European model of development, regardless what the neoconservative extremists claim. Only we have to find news ways to fund such a development model on a global scale.

I have not seen anything serious written and communicated about how social welfare frameworks and labour legislation could be included in free trade negotiations so as to make international commerce a bit more conducive to human and social development. For example, there could be a worldwide development fund which would receive taxes on imports from nations that do not have any form of social care; taxes would be such as to impose on the products exported by such nations a burden equal to the one they would have to bear if their governments were interested in protecting their people in at least a very minimal way... Only we would have to make sure the minimum is more than what the US neocons consider adequate in their belief that the poor, not the powerful, are to blame for the existence of poverty, at least in the world's most developed nation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Change management

SandChange management often puts companies and project teams in shifting sands. It requires discipline, commitment, skills, resilience, creativity, people / soft skills and a hell of a lot of common sense.
The October 2005 issue of the Harvard Business Review contains an article about "The Hard Side of Change Management". The authors report the findings of a research project they started in 1992 showing that there are four "hard factors" to take into account in any change management endeavour: project duration, integrity of performance (capabilities of project teams), commitment of senior execs and staff, effort required of employees over and above their usual activities to execute the change initiative. They call their framework DICE and it's been used by the Boston Consulting Group in 1000 change initiatives since the mid-nineties to assess change management initiatives.

What I found extremely interesting was the statement that one of the most damaging assumptions companies make in dealing with change is that if a change initiative takes a long time then it is bound to fail. The authors argue that it is rather the time span between project reviews and the managerial discipline to take the lessons / the feedback from each review that are actually more significant than overall project duration. This reminded me that GE, publicly known to be one of the best managed companies in the world, undertook no more than 5-6 change initiatives in the past quarter of a century. And while the authors recognize the importance of soft aspects of change management (which I think are fundamental), they were able to isolate the significant dimensions of the "hard side". The article also makes a very valid point on the commitment of senior execs and people. I know first hand how a change initiative fails when commitment is insufficient because I took part in a major project of this type at MasterCard Europe.

Definitely a "must read" for anyone interested in change management, which I suspect is every manager in today's world.

An unusual medium for NATO communication

NatoThis image is a scan of an advertising  postcard I found in a restaurant of Brussels. It says "feeling protected | se sentir protégé". I was surprised to discover on the back-side of this postcard that it is published and distributed on behalf of NATO. And NATO is asking people to use the postcard to mail their input / opinions. I know that security and protection are fashionable values these days. I know that the media keep injecting regular doses of fear reminders in the news. So my question of the day is simple: what is the purpose of this communication campaign?

Friday, October 28, 2005

General strike in Belgium

TheaterBelgian unions are organizing a national strike on October 28th to protest against the reform plans calling for a broad review of the social security and pension system. During the same time China's major metropolitan areas (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong...) will produce as much GDP as that forgone by Belgium... Europe's welfare systems cannot continue operating the way they do and at the same time we have to acknowledge how absurd the financing of our states is: selling shares will cots you 1% in taxes, while selling a house will cost you 17% in taxes... and last time I looked the financial flows represented over 75 times the flows of the real economy. As an example, in 2003, the average value of about 350,000 transactions going through the CRESTCo clearing and settlement system was  620 billion Euros PER DAY represented a value of about , i.e. almost 3 times the ANNUAL GDP of Belgium, a country of over 10 million souls!

This means that there are ways to finance activities that must remain in the hands of the public sector (the Tobin tax would be interesting to have as a basis for discussion). At the same time, this country needs to rationalize government because a country of 10 million people cannot possibly afford 4 or 5 governments to accomodate indescribable egos,  cultural integrism, personal ambitions and political agendas.

And of course, this strike is an ill-adapted reaction triggerred by people who still think along the lines of outdated ideologies who will not solve anything. Of course, the strike costs nothing to employed people while it causes direct financial damage to entrepreneurs, small business owners and freelance people. Of course, the strike happens on a Friday that is forecast as a sunny day... and guess what? It starts at 10:00 because we don't want to wake-up too early for a protest and it finishes at 14:00 because everybody wants to have an extended weekend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Freelance economy & the European challenge

2caps_01_12caps_02_12caps_03_1Slightly less than a decade ago I came across the first of a series of interesting articles (The Dawn of the E-Lance Economy,  Being Virtual: Character and the New Economy, Paradox in Project-Based Enterprise: The Case of Film Making) published in the Harvard Business Review describing how the way we structure labour relationships would be transformed in the future. The articles made a very convincing argument in favour of an economy in which companies and individuals would hire talent for the duration of one or more projects for which their contribution was necessary. At the same time, they highlighted the challenges of such a "market-driven" organization of work and business, in particular as regards strategy and critical work on the core of a business that often requires a level of commitment that external subcontractors rarely provide. A decade ago (circa 1993) was  the time when the Balanced Scorecard was first presented in the pages of the HBR and that too seemed like a great idea (which I think it is if implemented with a bit of common sense rather than dogmatic commitment to theoretical orthodoxy). That triggered the current fashion of measuring and quantifying everything (and often the qualitative aspect and the analysis of what these heaps of data actually mean is lost in the process producing indicators). So the combination of these two trends made some researcher go as far as to suggest that individuals would
have their quote on a free market, a bit like the stock market.

I was immediately attracted by the model both because I felt it was the best way to allocate resources in a fair and unbiased manner to achieve optimal performance in the face of a challenge that was already apparent (emerging economies of India, China, Brazil). The fact that established companies of the Western world seemed not have much trouble of conscience laying off their people (a.k.a. "our most important asset" in their annual reports) by the thousands strengthened my belief that the best way to operate was to be a freelance professional. So that's one of the things that made me start working under that model, which provides no security whatsoever other than the satisfaction of the customer. At the same time, I do not consider myself to be a mercenary and I take pride in sharing a number of values with my customers. My ambition is to combine the freelance model (the way of Reason) with a genuine interest in making things work out for my customer to contribute to their success (the way of the Heart).

Of course there are important limitations that must be taken into account if this way of carrying out projects is to be used on a large scale to improve flexibility:

  1. this model is not for everyone : type of job, psychological profile, considerations of general interest and impartial government at the level of society...

  2. markets are not perfect (my sincerest apologies here to my former professor of finance) and are not necessarily driven by "objective" considerations because markets are made of humans and humans are not robots (at least not everyone and not all the time).

  3. the satisfaction of a customer is often more a matter of individuals rather than a matter of institutions: what does speaking of the satisfaction of company XYZ (the customer) really mean when one is a feelance professional?

  4. this model may not be for all the stages of a person's life: there is value in being part of an organization and sharing more than project objectives with colleagues at certain stages and that is in the interest of both the company and the individual (beginning of career and for very senior positions whose personal welfare should be more tightly linked to how the company they lead fares in the medium / long term and not to how golden the parachute will be when they are fired having achieved no results).

  5. the collective and individual capabilities of people are seldom managed as core business assets in large organizations and they often neglected for lack of awareness in smaller organizations. Therefore, the drive to get the most appropriate resources possible (that can be afforded) on a project is sometimes weak. Human resource departments often need to be restructured, starting from their name (I am not a "human resource", are you?), to become effective partners of the business who understand the organization's activity and can make a genuine contribution to getting hold of the most appropriate people regardless their status from the standpoint of labour legislation.

  6. in many cases the act of putting together a team of freelance profesionals is limited to the tasks required to identify and hire indivudal experts, without much attention being given to the dynamic of the group nor to the building of a team: who wants to invest in people they will not keep in the long run?

  7. the freelance model works very well for very focused experts and slightly less well for general management professionals, although the exposure of managerial profiles to a variety of situations in very different business environments is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to develop and mature their management skills.

Still this way of organizing entire chunks of a company's value-chain needs to be developed in Europe if we are serious about dynamism and growth. At the same time, the framework of welfare state that was developed during the last century, public service managed by democratically elected governments and heavy public investment in education and research must be preserved. We don't need to be as extreme in removing government from business as neo-conservative americans are (a fact for which neither the victims of Katrina, nor the working poors of America thank them), nor as rigid as the french socialists can be when it comes to making things easier for business.

Who can solve this equation?

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Tribute to a modern humanist

Gardenia_oct2005I'd like to tell you a few words about  an exceptionally talented individual I am very proud to call a friend. I think of him as a genuine representative of an open and creative world. He is somebody I met well over a decade ago during as we were both somewhat anxiously expecting our turn to take an exam in civil law at the business school.

His name is Roberto Ostinelli and he is one of those multi-faceted personalities who are able to achieve excellent performance in a variety of fields. Roberto graduated from a business school and got an MBA, but to him that was just one facet of life. Aside from that was his strong interest for developing software, excelling in electronic games and crucially his passion about music. Back at university he was already performing on a very regular basis and I was lucky to attend a few of his concerts. Roberto recently wrote some great new songs a couple of which are available for download here. One thing I can tell you is that I had hard time selecting only a few!

Roberto is the type of person one has big trouble fitting into just one category, which is what most people do today as our world is one of extreme specialisation, accelerating pace of living and scarcity of independent analysis and judgement. Roberto's example is an invitation to look closer, to be more curious and to remember that the greatness of European civilisation was achieved thanks to Renaissance Humanism. A period of civilization in which his countrymen was pioneers and which gave us people of exceptional openness and versatility like Leonardo da Vinci. Roberto is a worthy successor.

Enjoy his music!

Track 1 - Date
Download 01_date.mp3

Track 3 - Il volo degli Dei
Download 03_il_volo_degli_dei.mp3

Track 8 - Vale
Download 08_vale.mp3

Monday, October 3, 2005

Music for an open world

HdcoverHarvey Danger is a music band based in the USA (in Seattle I believe) and they are making their latest album available for free download from their website . A recent post on Slashdot prompted me to take a look at this unusual although not unique initiative.

Their music is really very enjoyable and I find it great that they chose to distribute their creation in a daring and bold manner. They offer their music and leave it to the consumer to decide whether and how much they want to pay them for having the opportunity to listen to and to distribute freely and without limitations Harvey Danger's latest work. In essence they trust you and me to be fair to them. This is so excellent! These guys deserve as much support as they can get.

Did you know that when you and I buy a book or a music album for 15 € the artist actually gets only 10%-15% of that amount. 1.5€ to 2€ on total turnover of 15€... Where does the rest of the money go? Intermediaries: producers, managers, record company, lawyers, distributors... all of whom have not created anything, but occupy a key role in the chain going from the creator to the end consumer. The percentage can get slighlty bigger and the terms of business a bit better for known artists, but still isn't this a rip-off?

Harvey Danger is actually doing what may be the biggest nightmare of the music industry: they use the Internet to go direct and give power to the consumer. No recording companies, no DRM software, no expensive (and mostly useless) copy control mechanisms, no lawyers, no useless intermediaries... Just a direct deal between the creators and the users.

Here is a copy of their press release where they explain why they are doing this: Download HD_LBL_relase.pdf

Now let me tell you another little thing coming from the IT business: a product / software /service works better when the creators are in direct contact with the users even if there is a need for good (excellent) analysts and project managers to make the whole thing flow. Direct business, no useless intermediaries, maximum clarity, transparent pricing, decent commercial proposals, fair deals... That's what an open world is about.

An open world is a matter of quality of life for all of us and for your kids; whether this seems a bit far fetched or not, I don't care and I won't make this article longer by going into the rationale of my assertion. Just go download this excellent piece of musical creation and give Harvey Danger your direct support. In good Euros please.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"A man is but his thoughts..."

Eurobasket05_1The national team of Greece are European champions of basket-ball! Having spent quite some time on the courts and with still vivid memories of the first European championship Greece took in 1987, I am extremely happy and proud of what this team achieved. Like in football in 2004, team spirit is what really made a crucial difference in getting to the top. In fact, I believe that this is true in almost any human endeavour: if you build a great team you have far better chances to succeed.

Of course, "technical" capability is an absolute prerequisite: you can't build a team for great performance without individual talent and skill. But it is not sufficient. One also needs to have spirit, team spirit as it were.
Pinakasgiannakis_1And I was wondering how the Greek coach built such team spirit. I now have part of my answer in a picture from the room in which the team gathered before the final game.  Usually one will see technical drawings of moves to play during a game on a white board such as this one. Here there are just three sentences:

"One is successful in big undertakings not only by showing strength but by persevering"

"The only path for this team is to be who we really are in order to become what we can become"

"Only when one is ready to go beyond their limits can they win"

These are eternal truths for any bunch of talented individuals who aspire to become a winning team. Extremely difficult, but much less than ususallt believed to be. It takes putting the ego aside and working for the team amongst other things. And in fact ego is one of the top 5 reasons why some teams do not perform. All sorts of teams, not just sports teams.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Quote of the day

"The short road to ruin is to emulate the methods of your adversary." - Winston Churchill

Monday, September 5, 2005

Quote of the day

"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction."
Pablo Picasso

Of decisions, choices and duality...

Duality_1There can be no certainty in our world. Decisions are often complex. Choices even more so. Especially when one has trouble with the world of feelings and with intuitions. There are no road signs, no way of being rationally certain that a decision is right and no way of feeling peace with the choice of a path prior to walking the path, for the path does not exist before one walks the steps that eventually form a path. In may respects 'right' and 'wrong' are illusory ways of categorizing events in our world of relativity.

I used to feel that the position of decision makers was easy and somewhat unfair because by their very action of deciding, decision makers would affect the lives of other people. I used to believe that They had the upper hand and those affected by a decision would pay the price of the decision more than those making the decision. This is yet another opinion that seems correct and is in fact wrong,
for the decision maker too pays a price for his or her decisions,
especially if making good decisions is important to them. It is a very
different price, but nonetheless a hefty one.

In fact, there has been a time in my life when I wanted to be a "different" decision maker, perhaps more focused on the consequences of decisions for other people. Then part of my life happened and it taught me that it is best to undertake an action for its own merit rather than for its induced effects, be they positive or negative. This is what makes one live in the present. And the 'present' is preciously rare. My brother pointed out to me that if we were to apply the law of scarcity as formulated in Economics, then the most precious thing we have is the present.

Duality is an illusion... unlike when one drives on a road in the country side. In certain respects our world can be considerably light. The Unbearable Lightness of Being?

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Succeeding by design

Gardenia_00006Many factors influence successful endeavours. Few do so as much as design. Succeeding by design is a way of doing things that does not leave essential aspects of a product, a service or an experience to chance.

Realising the importance of design is a key to achieving more better results in your endeavours, the enabler to getting more satisfaction from projects. Becoming conscious of the criticality of design is the single most important factor to create your happiness and your success day after day.

Good design is about harmony and style.

Succeeding by design requires attitude and discipline because there are a few universal rules that actually underpin successful design of anything you can think of from...

  • hit products like the iMac, a Cartier fountain pen or a BMW,

  • to excellent service like Amazon,

  • to awesome experience like a show of Maurice Béjart.

UniversalpinciplesofdesignThis is a book I purchased a few months ago that summarizes all these principles of design; it deals with the 80/20 rule, the way people perceive colors, how metaphors and archetypes work to convey meaning, applications of the normal curve, the golden ratio and many many other principles, all presented in a fabulous manner.
It is a goldmine if you are interested in design and a powerful source of inspiration about things you can do to enhance your experience on the planet. Of course there are a few other things you ought to be informed of, but that will be for a future post on this blog :-)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Imperfection as a core ingredient of progress






The illusion of perfection and the often painful  quest of individuals under social influence for this "ideal". Two areas on which I could write a lot because it's been my way of doing in the past. Now I just celebrate imperfection as the best engine for progress ever invented because I think a perfect life without any imperfections would be an imperfect life almost by definition. At least it would be a life that would rob us of fantastic opportunities to evolve and grow.

However, it seems that in some of our social groups or societies the very idea of failure or imperfection is sometimes enough to cause intense reactions. Some people choose to distance themselves from other people's imperfections and therefore choose to distance themselves from the people who they see as embodying them. But a person is not their behaviour nor their performance... Other people choose to blame or cooly underline the imperfection of others... Games of the shadow as Carl Jung would perhaps say.

What prompts this post, aside from my own personal path which is perfectly imperfect or perhaps imperfectly imperfect, is an article published by a Greek doctor in the Public Library of Science (an open-access scientific journal that is worth paying a visit to). John P. Ioannidis studied why most published research findings are wrong and identified factors that seem to favour this imperfection of our world. Nice to know if we are to use this as feedback. "It can be proven that most claimed research findings are false" according to the author. Well, I believe that sentence remains accurate if you replace the words "claimed research findings" by the words "of the claims of anyone of us". And that still does not mean that we should stop thinking, claiming, arguing, writing, speaking, discussing... well, living. While I am really OK about continuous improvement, I am far less happy
with self-righteous "judges of Truth and Knowledge" as Einstein put it.

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked
by the laughter of the gods. - Albert Einstein

So let's try to celebrate all those who...

  • try stuff that does not work 'cause that's how we get to stuff that works. Real life is not always like the beautiful success stories we are constantly told about ('How Mr X became an instant pop music icon' or 'The innate scientific talent of Ms Y');

  • try stuff that works differently than expected 'cause that's how we got cool new products many times over;

  • honor truth in practice by daring to show themselves as they are with all their imperfections 'cause they add taste to real life. An example of such a person is a guy called Thierry Janssen (meet him on his site and read the awesome stuff he writes)...

And that includes scientists who sometimes publish research that turns out to be wrong, journalists who happen to publish articles that are inaccurate, politicians who fail to implement 100% of what they promised during a campaign and many others who are only human. And yet magnificently human. Splendily imperfect and therefore truly perfect in a way. I believe every single person does their very best moment by moment to satisfy criteria that are important to them.

Now, sometimes it's useful to...

  • think about the relevance of a criterion, or

  • the concrete way (behaviour, action, attitude) in which someone attempts to satisfy that criterion, or

  • the beliefs that underpin someone's choices, or

  • whether all required capabilities are in someone's possession as they embark on an enterprise

It's all a matter of objective and intention. It's a matter of whether we choose to view failure and imperfection as a life sentence or as simple feedback that can be used to adapt ways and means. It's a matter of attitude towards our fellow human beings. At the end of the day I choose to see someone else's mistake, imperfection, failure as being also my own. That's an ingredient of progress in my opinion.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Quicker & more relevant than Le Monde

T_tournesolRemember a few days ago my story about "flower power", Thomas Plassard and his association?

Well it seems, my post beat Le Monde and AFP on this one (although I am pretty sure I am not the only one to have done so and that speaks volumes about what is happening to traditional media). On top of that, my story is about something far more relevant to the European & French readership. No matter which journalistic performance indicator you choose, my blog was better than Le Monde and I am proud of that! A zillion thanks to Thomas for offering me that gift in return for my driving him to beautiful Saint-Malo.

Below is an attachement with the "flash" article from Le Monde and AFP.
Download 20050830_LeMonde_RoulerALHuileDeFriture.pdf
The picture on this post is courtesy of La Poterie du Marais.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Training specifications template

Holidays_martinique_2004_00102Over the past year I developed a number of tailor-made and standard training events for customers. One of the things I am doing each time is to define what the specs of the training should be. And as with every single thing one undertakes, one of the keys to success is to set an objective that is adequate for them in a way that will work for them in pactice (see the conditions of proper formulation of objectives in an earlier post on this blog).

So now I am publishing a template for specifying training events that you are free to use (and free to tell me how it works for you) if you are developing trainings. With a little bit of tweaking around the template also works for specifying a service for a customer or for a segment of the market. The document contains only info that makes sense for me and depending on your business requirements, you may need to include legal and other aspects to it. Let this be my contribution to your efforts if you will.
Download 20050827_TrainingSpecs.doc

Sunday, August 28, 2005

New recipe & why a restaurant is a top B-school

20050827_recette_tartedelegumes_002Continuing to publish Open Recipes, I give you the delicious, yet healthy, vegetables pie, which was invented during the weekend. The recipe is only in French and I might translate it one of these days.
Download CusineLibre_RecetteLibreTarteAuxLegumes.pdf

You know, a restaurant is a good metaphor for almost any business regardless how hi-tech the business can be. And I spent a few summers working in restaurants back in the eighties. There is marketing (place, style, menu), sales (the helpful guy or girl who comes to get your order), operations (the kitchen), finance (cashier desk), procurement (where we get the ingredients & drinks)... and so on. It is actually one the best places to learn about the eternal truths of general management, people management, customer care, CRM, knowledge management, planning... and a few other very practical things.
As ever, good instructions on how to make what the customer is asking for are important... only insofar as they are actually applied. So it's more about the skill than about the plan. More about the action than about the talk. As Gandhi said, "an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of theory".  Which is also one of the eternal truths of Life in general. And that's valid for every single being, from the leader of the most advanced nation as he keeps babbling (but not doing much) about freedom and democracy, to the tinniest creature as it tries out ways to evolve in a Darwinian world of co-opetition as Hamel, Prahalad, Brandenburger and a few other researchers-practitioners would put it.

So go on and try this recipe. Take pleasure executing every single step of it. Have fun doing it. Make each action a celebration of how perfect our universe can be (it just depends on attitude). Eventually you will end up having something quite enjoyable in your plate. Bon appétit!

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Great traveller

One of my former colleagues (who used to be a globetrotter in his days as head of sales of the company we were working for) has started a great trip around the globe that has taken him from Latin America to New Zealand. I trully admire his daring nature and his way of always being in action. Lodewijk shares some of his considerable travel (and adventure) experience on his web site, Silk-on-the-Road. Beautiful pictures of awesomely beautiful places on the planet. A source of inspiration for something completely different.

Flower power?

20050814_thomasplassardReturning from Brest, Britany, France on 14 August last, I spent a little bit more than an hour with a hitchhiker, who turned out to be an extremely interesting and multifaceted person.
When I saw him waiting for someone to give him a ride, with his monocycle lying at his feet, I had a positive intuition... Go figure! So we started talking about his monocylce because I have a good friend who is painstakingly learning to ride one. So Thomas told me he was going back home after spending a few weeks with a Gypsy circus which happens to give shows that fully exploit the power of metaphors and of the subconscious (that's an interesting point too, because I am now working on a new type of training programme based on metaphors...) Anyway, Thomas is not an artist or at least not exclusively an artist. He is a physicist. He is also one of the people behind a French organization called "Roule ma fleur", which trains people around France on how to use vegetal oil instead of diesel to power their engines. It seems one needs only very limited changes to the engine of a car or other vehicle to be able to use sunflower oil (but it also works with other types of oil) as fuel. Given the rising price of crude oil these days, it might be interesting to examine more closely this type of options, especially since they also seem to provide solutions to the green-house effect that some developed and developing nations don't give a dime about.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Open feedback tool

During this past year I started developing tailored training material for workshops and training sessions I am organising for my customers. The development of material for an event is always an interesting challenge, especially when customers push for a lot of content. The imperative to explain that more often than not less is more is one of the things I have to deal with on a very regular basis. Sometimes I just warn my customer of the effects of pushing for too much content and just do my best to address their requirements. At the end of the day, a customer has their set of criteria that they want to satisfy (efficiency, economy, productivity...). They also have their learning style: for some people it is learning by understanding why, for others it is learning by understanding how and for a third group it is learning by doing. I respect that because my "truth" is not above or more than their "truth".
Sp3220050808121353All this leads to the issue of being able to assess how well a session went for attendees. Capturing and using feedback in a positive way is one of the keys to continuous improvement of any professional activity. Having performance indicators that mean something and can direct future action is an absolute must; of course, the value of a performance indicator lies in its business meaning, not in its existence.
So, I decided to publish under Creative Commons licence the latest version of the feedback tool I am using for the training sessions and workshops I am delivering. The criteria I decided to use make sense for me because they are derived from my definition of the experience I want for my customers when I delver a session. You are free to amend the documents below as you please; just play by the rules of the Share-Alike license of CC. The Excel document is designed to help you exploit the data collected at the end of a session. It is protected without password (so you can unprotect it if you want) and the range in which you can enter data is shaded in blue. And by the way, your feedback on this tool is most welcome!
Download 20050808_FeedbackForm.pdf
Download 20050808_FeedbackForm.doc

Download 20050808_AP_EventFeedback.xls

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Little Gesture 60 years after Little Boy

LittleboySixty years ago to the day a few good men performed their "duty" in planning, preparing and eventually executing a fateful attack that was to become known as the first nuclear attack in History. Hiroshima, its population and all life forms that found themselves in the region on 6 August 1945 were wiped out as they met Little Boy. Back then, as we are doing today, some people among our elected leaders, those who speak and act in our name, chose to use unfair and shameful means to pursue a fair goal, the end of war. Once again, this provides an opportunity for me to reaffirm the importance of the path versus the apparent primacy of the goal. Unfair means to serve a fair purpose corrupts the endeavour.

I would like to invite those of your who realize the dimension of the mistake that claimed millions of lives, both human and non human, to perform a Little Gesture on Saturday 6 August 2005 in memoriam. I invite you to do a little something that counts for you, whatever that may be, a prayer, a session of meditation, fasting, helping someone in need... anything you will do with your heart and soul. Not necessarily something big or spectacular. Not necessarily a big amount of effort. Something you will do with all your heart in the memory of lives destroyed in Hiroshima, and crucially as a tribute to Peace and Harmony today and tomorrow. In 1949 the Japanese Parliament proclaimed Hiroshima a City of Peace. Let us be People of Peace now.

Monday, August 1, 2005

Coming up on this blog

I have a list of topics on which I would like to write a piece on this blog in the coming days and weeks. So let me give you a preview and invite you to drop me a line or leave a comment on this blog if you think about other subject you would like me to write about. Of course, I cannot commit to accept all proposals as there are clearly matters I feel like writing about and other I would rather skip; in any event your suggestions are welcome and will be studied.
Anyway here's the list of what's coming up on this blog:

  • NLP and professional orientation

  • how to give people feedback in a respectful manner

  • why on-the-job coaching makes sense

  • how to develop and use human potential in IT projects

  • is NLP a technique of manipulation?

  • how to manage confusion of logical levels

  • the attributes of "flow activities" and personal happiness

Have a great week.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Open cuisine, open recipe and creative commons

ResultatfinalAs you might know, I believe in an open and free world of sharing, caring and respect. From political freedom and respect for vital values to open-source products and free software. That does not mean chaos for the simple reason that an open and free world can be reasonably regulated and governed. Creative Commons is a good example of rules that make sense while fully repecting freedom and openness. So I thought I would test it by promoting a new breed of open "source": Open Recipes and Open Cuisine.
I kind of like trying things out for myself - I think Carl Jung had a type called "feeler", the active experimentator if you will. Therefore I chose to write a recipe of an adapted version of Moussaka that I created a couple of years ago. Well, a Greek guy writing a recipe about Moussaka makes sense somehow... Anyway, this is the result of using the Creative Commons framework to publish under a Share-alike license the recipe. I call this new breed of open source cuisine Open Cuisine and the recipes shall be officially called Open Recipes :-) And the French version: "Cuisine Libre" and "Recette Libre".

There are many creative ways to move towards and open and free world of sharing, caring and respect. This is one very small example that is within the limits of my modest abilities. What matters is not how great or ambitious the initiative is; what matters is the flow and movement within. Don't think too much about that, just go out and try it as an attitude; it's not perfect, it does sometimes fail and overall it does improve quality of living by transforming the way one chooses to perceive the world.

Two documents can be downloaded from this blog, one in English and the other one in French. Enjoy!
Download MoussakaOpenRecipe.pdf

Download CusineLibre_RecetteLibreMoussaka.pdf

Open source project management software

Sp3220050728212322_1A good project management tool is one of the things I have been searching for ages. And I've tried all sorts of products in the past. For me, good means straightforward, easy to use for building a project plan, providing for simple project tracking and control...

I wanted to have some very basic things because I don't need the bells and whistles of tools used by multinational companies to run complex orldwide projects with enormous constraints. On the front of theoretically easier and yet self-proclaimed powerful tools, ther is of course MS Project. And last time I tried I did not enjoy the enormous gap between promise and actual performance of MS Project: no, it is not making project management easy and yes it does require a heavy investment in learning its built-in peculiar behaviours. Of course, this is only my opinion and perhaps I am just a rare exception of a person who had a bad experience with this product...

Anyhow, I had been looking for an affordable and functional tool... This is exactly what I found this morning with Open Workbench. If you are interested in project management and want to check it out, just visit their site. They also have a version that is designed for big companies with a central repository (I think they call it Clarity, but I have not tried it). One of the things I really found extra cool with Open Workbench is the fact that it does not try to drown you under a huge number of reports, views and filters, but instead has a little engine built-in that allows you to define the project data you want to see in a given view of the project. And it is really easy to start using, both because it has a great user interface and because the user guide is very well written. Definitely worth checking.

I remain in bewildered awe before some of the achievements of the open source software movement. And I just love the passion these people are putting in their work. That is an example of what talent can produce that sometimes money cannot buy nor inspire.