Saturday, December 13, 2008

Master and Commander

Marketing and HR folks always illustrate their ideas using two-by-two matrices, with a quality along either edge ranging from Bad to Good, and four metaphoric quadrants. The Boston Consulting Groups started it with their Growth/Share diagram


…and things just metastasized from there.

Type any two qualities followed by the word "”matrix” into Google Images and you will invariably get something:

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This week, BNET, an aggregator of trends and ideas, featured some thinking from productivity guru David Allen that I thought was interesting.


clip_image017‘given the week, it’s easy to see myself as Visionary–Crazy when, of course, I want to be Master and Commander.  The excerpts are intriguing, and the ideas seem generative. What’s lacking in the summaries are the prescriptive bits that suggest how to move about the matrix or to make the most of my lot in my natural quadrant.

I went through a similar epiphany years ago with the Myers-Briggs personality test, which features four axes rather than two.  I am a clear INTJ (Introversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judging), and the discussion of other personality types gave me a lot of insight into how to better communicate and work with people with different outlooks more effectively. It feels like this may have similar value for how I relate to tasks and opportunities.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bits and bobs on Friday

Still sorting a bit today: leaving for the US on Sunday, so lots to be done at work and home, for settling in and for Christmas.  I’m also still wrestling with the conflict inherent in the travel issues I wrote about yesterday: I love the travel - I hate the consequences.  I think that it’s something that many expatriates, trying to make the most of their time abroad, have to come to terms with.

There wasn’t time for a lot of decorating for the holidays, given moving and travel.  I did find an orange paper star, lit with the glow of a 25-watt bulb, at the Koln Market that gives the place some nice festive sprit.

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‘Still no Internet at home.  I signed up for KPN’s service, and they promised to have it delivered within a month of my order.  The order went in at the start of November, and KPN installed ADSL service a month later.  The problem is, they weren’t sure about which apartment, so they randomly connected to one of the four in the building.  I’ve called to try to get it fixed, but now I’m on a different wheel: they made good on their delivery guarantee (irrespective of whether I received it), so now I’m on the Service clock.  Within five (working) days, I will receive a phone call telling me how they might fix the connection issue.  To actually get it fixed, delivering working Internet, may take much longer.image  Perhaps by New Year’s, the apartment will be connected.  At that point, I am encouraged to use the Complaint procedure to recover the money that I spent in December for Internet service that I didn’t receive….

I’m not making this up.  In the meantime, I’m sniffing off of a random connection in an adjacent building.  There are a half-dozen strong access points in range, but security groups have encouraged everyone to lock down, so none are shareable.  It probably has greater effect of making everyone pay than it does for protecting everyone.  I’m seriously considering throwing my access point open, when, if, I get it, really.

DSC04327It’s nice to be back along the river.  There are an amazing variety of boats that go by over the course of an hour, from heavy freighters to little tugs and tourist boats. The big ones are partly residences, with compact cars stored on deck and cheerful curtains at the cabin windows, flags waving on the stern. Many seem to be family operations: children’s play sets, encased in chicken-wire cages, adorn the decks.

I’d always considered retiring to the San Juan Islands, north of Seattle, with a view from a bluff over the Sound.  I do enjoy the shimmer and mist, the changing character of having a  waterway in sight.  It will have to be part of the future.

And finally…image I’ve become a fan of the Financial Times weekend edition and their collection of columnists and features.  My guilty pleasure is Tyler Brule, a globe-trotting magazine editor who writes their Fast Lane essay.  I got sucked in when he described his 20-point Perfect Day  (#1: A morning without Sarah Palin), the Perfect man-bag (I hate to admit it but do accessorize), and OilyBoy (the perfect “commonsense guide to looking and acting your age”).

‘lets face it: my taste runs to the Economist, Wired, and the Sunday Times Travel. My life has never even admitted the possibilities that Tyler cooks up each week, not so much aspirational as they are weirdly alternative.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The insanity of constant travel

DSC04267 Some time back, Vagabond posted an article (that I haven’t been able to find again) detailing the signs that reveal when it’s time to come in from the road for a bit. ‘Becoming jaded about the places you’re in, irritated with language and cultural differences, numb to hardship, withdrawn from friends, were all indications that it was time for a break.

I think that the intensity that develops from international business travel is equally taxing, but the signs of overdoing it are less obvious.

Business travel tends to be externally driven.  There will be a call from the head office, asking if I’d have time to check in on a key customer.  It’s only a few hours flight away, a presentation, hop back at night: a simple day trip.

In fact,as I think about it, there is probably time to add a visit that I’ve needed to make to a nearby site, in effect, saving me a trip.

And there’s an afternoon free between the two: perfect for catching up with a friend over lunch who I’ve been promising to meet next time I’m in the area.

Damn, I can’t quite make it to the second appointment by 9 am if I do that, but I can get half-way there, taking the layover hotel at the airport. (In fact, there’s an added opportunity for a discount and a night’s stay towards the ten I need  to maintain silver eligibility for the year for that chain.)

Step back:

Drive 2 1/2 hours (through snow, as it develops) to the airport, a quick flight, train, tube, train, then dinner, taxi to the hotel, (exercise-sleep-exercise), taxi to meeting at 10, noon train-tube to city, lunch at 2, tube-train to airport at 4, flight to another country, shuttle-bus to layover hotel, arrive 11.  Then up at 5 am, shuttle-flight-wait-taxi.  Coffee. Presentation.  Taxi, flight, 2 1/2 hour drive (hopefully no snow), bed by midnight, in to work Friday as though I never left.

And I can see where it’s innocently become a little insane.

DSC04270 But it’s an insidious fault, because the good enablers and incentives are all aligned to produce the bad behavior.  Necessary and beneficial  work is being done, and the itinerary promises net euro-savings and time-efficiency.  There’s experience in participation, road-warrior creds for drive and energy, and the opportunity to play again when people decide who to call for the next mission.

And, personally, I really do enjoy travel, meeting customers, exchanging ideas, being active in my work.

But I’ll also acknowledge that I have to watch for the warning signs of overdoing it and taking on too much business travel.

Days that start at 5 and end at 11 are not good days, and I’m arguably not doing my best work during them.  I do manage to avoid the common vices of eating and drinking too much to compensate, but then withdraw into ternative isolation through exercise and reading.

I know that the itinerary becomes and end in itself, an endurance event where TripAdvisor entries and hotel / airline points become ways to keep score.  And, once it becomes a competition, simple human roadblocks and delays lead to further stress and irritation.

In the end, even that heroism and worldliness drain out of the experience. I suspect that once you pass that edge, it’s possible to lose all meaningful touch with life and people.  I’m not sure what follows after that (nor do I want to know…). 

Family and colleagues may well be the canary ahead of that coalmine, questioning the volume and pace of travel early on and pointing to events missed and jobs left undone. They are probably also voices worth heeding.

PS: A solid three hour drive back from Amsterdam Schiphol at the end of the trip this evening, stopping once for a break. That’s like driving to Luxembourg.  I need to get this airport stuff figured out (or take the train and avoid the construction at the Eindhoven ring…)

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Koln Christmas Market

‘back on the road again, passing through the airports at Schiphol (left) and Terminal 5 (right).  The decorations seem muted: Delft-inspired hangings in Amsterdam and a few forlorn trees in London.

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No doubt, for the season’s spirit, you have to go to Koln.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Maastricht Christmas Market

DSC03954 I feel like I didn’t really do justice to the Maastricht Christmas Market as it opened a couple of weeks ago. It doesn’t show well in the late November daytime, empty of people and with the booths and the attractions still getting going.

The SkyWheel has been lit and active every night across the river, beckoning a return to the Market this weekend. Friday night was rainy, the Fair largely empty, with only a few skaters sloshing around the ice rink or huddled into the buckets on the Wheel.  Still, it showed promise: the lights and booths were open and the gluhwine was warm and abundant. 

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But the following night was dry and pleasant, the Market buzzing and laughing. Skaters were out in force (especially the little learner leaning on her Penguin, below), the sausages were excellent, and the carousel and the weird sinterklaas-themed trains whirred around full of squealing children. It was really a festive evening: the lights, the music, and the decorations for sale really capture the season.

This is how the evenings should be: it’s amazing to me that this hasn’t been adopted in US towns yet. 

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I took a couple of minutes of video from the SkyWheel, posted below, which will give some idea of the scope of the seasonal activities in the Market.