Saturday, January 19, 2008

Druk, druk, druk

The Dutch Word of the Day often seems remarkably apt: it produced "Piekeren" (to worry, to brood, to ponder) on the days that we were having a management offsite to ponder company strategy, and, true to form, it suggested learning to use "Druk" (busy, crowded) during this week.

The busy-ness was caused by the arrival of our corporate VP-Research and a senior product planner from the US. Normally, these visits by executive management are boardroom sessions, all imagesuits, ties, PowerPoints and seriousness. They are formatted, rehearsed, and choreographed to within a minute of every hour, with clear objective statements up front and polite "Thank you" graphics at the end. Thus, the days leading up to the visit involve planning, preparation, and still more meetings.

In contrast, this visit turned out to be two days of genuine fun. The VP-Research is a refreshing (and sometimes frustrating) iconoclast: he refused to ride business class on the plane, and took the trains out from Schiphol to Arnhem (despite a shoulder with a torn rotator cuff, awaiting surgery next month). He hates being confronted with management presentations; he'd rather have the scientists serve up some data and spend an hour sifting his fingers through it to see what looks new or interesting. He hopped up on stage to argue that we need to give patients, not just doctors, a reason to want our implants, then suggested putting MP3 player, keyless automobile ignition, electronic point-of-sale payment, and imagesubway pass capability into it.

All of this, or course, delights the technical folks and drives the product planners and executive staff nuts. So much the better. So, it was a fun agenda to plan: brainstorming sessions with the development teams, a presentation to challenge the thinking of the design groups, a working hour with each of the research scientists with experiments planned or data to show. I warned everyone to come prepared and to engage in some direct "give and take" (not that the Dutch need much encouragement): in the end, everyone had fun and it put some fresh air into the rooms.

I was listening to a radio essay yesterday that reflected on how every mythology includes a trickster: someone who breaks the rules and challenges the traditions. I don't want the job, myself, but I happily acknowledge the value that they bring.

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."

- Dorothy Parker

"If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be research."

- Albert Einstein

"By seeking and blundering we learn."

- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

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