Saturday, May 30, 2009

Country mice, stone walls

Lakes spring 20 I’ve lived overseas for four years now, first in the Enterprise program at Cambridge, starting a new business in England,  building a business in Arnhem, developing clinical evidence at the research center in Maastricht.  The diverse assignments and the many people I’ve met have helped me to develop a much clearer vision of who I am and what I offer.

I’m an entrepreneurial leader who likes moving new medical device ideas through their proof-of-concept phases.

I care about the people and places that I’ve become a part of, and the importance of maintaining those links outweighs the drive to simply pursue ambition.

I like the life balance, social and cultural opportunities, that Europe offers.

Those personal changes, more than anything, probably drove the wedge that developed between the corporation and I, preventing me from finding a new assignment.  Still, we like one another, we have good, symbiotic skills and needs to offer one another.

So, what happened?

  • Country mouse; City mouse:  I have always worked the fringe divisions of the company: I favor the intimacy and nimbleness of of smaller organizations, I like to grow a business through products rather than processes collaborations rather than programs.  This tendency to avoid the administrative and political centers in favor of  building my career at the margins accentuated during my expatriate assignments; I never expressed much interest in returning to the center.

Lakes spring 18 

  • Stone walls; Brick walls: I think that innovative products are built from great ideas and creative people, from working closely with physicians and technologists across global boundaries.  It’s a bit like an Irish stone wall.  The organization tends to build from brick, believing that strong portfolios come conformity to from best processes and practices that minimize business risk and assure predictable outcomes.


  • Proving concept; providing evidence: The world is full of creative ideas, and businesses have to decide which ones to adopt and develop.  I advocate establishing clinical and technical feasibility quickly and cheaply; an 18- month small-team effort to assess the market, build a prototype, collect Phase 1 data, and secure intellectual property.  This clarifies known and unknown facts, removes risk, and allows bad ideas to die quietly. The corporation emphasizes valuation and investment, diligence to justify bringing the full capabilities and strengths of clinical, development, manufacturing, and distribution resources to new opportunities.  Lightweight approaches aren’t the norm for heavyweight institutions.

I probably stayed consistent with my themes for too long, even as it became evident that they were highlighting differences rather than bridging opportunities back to the rest of the corporation.  Especially in the latter stages, as mentors departed through replacement and retirement, I should have been more willing to face evolving reality.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Stepping out and making changes

DSC00505Friday was my last day with my employer of 22 years.

I will remain an expatriate, living and working in the Netherlands.

And I’ll still be here, writing advice and experiences and exploring cultures and ideas.

It’s all just going to be a lot more independently.

  It still feels strange to say that: it evokes pride and sadness, frustration and resolve.  But I know that I’ve taken the right steps to move on to the next stage in my life and career.

The process has played out in slow motion over the past six months, making it hard to know when it really started or whether it’s really ended.

But by Christmas, it had become clear how hard it would be to connect back into a new position from an overseas assignment. The literature and advice from other global assignees had highlighted that: a majority of expats leave their company within a year of repatriation.  I hadn’t expected it; I had a good record, strong mentors, and lots of friends across the organization.  But, six months after the division closed in Arnhem, it wasn’t converging as I’d hoped.

So I started the necessary Plan B planning.

I made alternative plans for the future, talking with family, friends, and colleagues.

I inventoried my expatriate contract to understand what would need to be replaced and found the resources to do it.

I talked with lawyers and accountants and other expatriates to figure out the immigration and incorporation rules and how to live in the Netherlands without the corporate safety net.

And so, when the business contraction hit and the recall notice arrived, I was ready with my alternative to make the most of the voluntary severance offer.  And the process ground forward to today, when the ID badge and company cards went in, the last box of personal stuff went out, and a new chapter in life begins.

Two questions still keep me awake at night to share here later this weekend: what happened, and what’s next.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Following one another's family footsteps

will canyonMy son is transferring from his training at Tinker AFB to his deployment location up in Alaska.. In practical terms, he’s on a two-week government funded road trip across the Southwest, up the West Coast, and onto the Alaska Ferry in a rambling Land Rover that he picked up from a friend in Oklahoma.

The trip has been producing a stream of text messages detailing the sights: wondering about inexplicably eroded buttes outside Albuquerque, clearing the security cordon around Hoover Dam, and marveling at the fundamentalist road signs littering the west Texas highways. It sounds like grand fun in true ‘road-trip’ style: two friends and an open highway, no deadlines or destinations and diverting to whatever catches their interest.

It’s vicarious fun: For year’s I’d felt like none of the kids had the same wanderlust that I had, but their sense of adventure is starting to blossom as they reach their 20’s. The Service is giving my son the opportunity to make wide-ranging weekend trips, and he’s talking about visiting the Far East on leave. My daughter is considering study and internship abroad and would move to Amsterdam in a moment.

It’s definitely interesting to watch parallels develop as they get out exploring the world on their own.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The last words on Istanbul

…mine, at least.

There are lots of small sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences to explore and enjoy around the Old City.  Of course, there are the big sights as well, so I’ll close with a quick pictorial tour of some favorite locations around the Horn.

4.  Grand Bazaar

The hot streets give way to dm passages filled with brightly colored stalls overflowing with treasure.  “You’re the customer I‘ve been waiting all day for! “  Within moments I’m out of sight of the entry and lost. “Wait, let me show you something?” A murmur of appreciation; eyes rolled at the asking price.  "I can see I’m not gong to make a profit today!” Sure, good fun, and everyone is in on the game.

Istanbul 257Istanbul 256

Istanbul 251Istanbul 253 

3.  Blue Mosque 

A crouching blue spider of a building, set amidst slender minarets and sculpted gardens.  Inside, shoeless, a surprisingly light and airy space, vastly carpeted and punctuated by wagon-wheel iron fixtures.  The occasional tourist darts through the fence to take a close-up picture; the children of the faithful laugh and roll in the corners .

Istanbul 057Istanbul 062

Istanbul 040 Istanbul 043

2.  Topkapi Palace

The Sultan’s home until the 1900’s, the residence is a series of buildings and courtyards highlighted with verdant gardens and panoramic views. It reminds me a bit of an academic campus: Stanford?  Befitting the crossroads of Europe and Asia, there are influences from Rococo Europe and waterbrush Asia, contemplative India and rough-edged Middle East.  The Sultan watched, learned, adapted, taking the best of passing cultures and creating a harmonious blend.

Istanbul 411Istanbul 383

Istanbul 367Istanbul 371

1.  The Bosporus

Steel-blue choppy water capped with spray from a stiff breeze.  All manner of boats arrowing in front of one another, lurching and foaming on the crowded waterway.   always find myself excited just to be part of it: the history and commerce of the place resonate strongly through the narrow straits.  A little shopping along the docks secures a 2-hour ride beneath the two bridges for only 20 TL.


Istanbul 106  Istanbul 143 Istanbul 127Istanbul 133 

0: Honorable Mention:

     Fish sandwiches along the docks         Apple tea at noon

Istanbul 161    Istanbul 021

                       Terrace dining                     Street vendors                             

Istanbul 018    Istanbul 424

Monday, May 25, 2009

Short illuminations of Turkey

Istanbul 436 I have a notebook full of scribbles taken during the visit to Istanbul: here are a few impressions along with some connected pictures --


  •   Low-cost flights (Condor; SunExpress) go to Sabiha Gökçen International Airport on the Asian side of the Bosporus. It’s a fresh, modern facility being built as an alternative to Atatürk International Airport, but th elocation makes it harder to get into the city.  A taxi costs 80 euro and takes 45 minutes; look for the shuttle buses to Taksim Square.  They cost 10 euro, run hourly, are just as Istanbul 185 fast (despite the taxi driver’s assurances that they take three times as long).
  •   My camera broke on the second day: I priced a replacement, then found the wholesaler upstairs.  It was an experience of pure capitalism: I loved it.  Runners dashed in and out taking product to vendors, the owner yelled offers into his constantly ringing phone, arm-waving negotiation set goods flowing out the door.  And, in the end, I got a better camera for 30% off street price, cash-only, no receipt, apple tea, and a great story.
  • Istanbul 470    German football fans are just as loud and drunk when they lose as when they win.  The orange-wrapped Ukraine's, however, are quiet in victory as though they lost.
  •    Istanbul, on the whole, is immaculate.  An army of people are sweeping and cleaning, and people take pride in the area around their homes and shops.  It makes the streets feel safe and welcoming.
  •   I do miss the glimpses of home life that the Dutch display: curtains are closed in every Turkish shop and home every evening.  And there aren’t two of anything in the windows.
  • Istanbul 468  Toilet paper doesn’t go into the toilet; it goes into a nearby basket.  It’s not a bad alternative in theory: so often the public toilets are clogged by waste paper.  But it takes some getting used to (as do the occasional slit-toilets).
  •   I enjoy waking to the call to prayer from the mosques: it gives an exotic flavor to the visit and puts me into a frame of mind to go exploring.  Later, listening to the call at twilight from a rooftop terrace is haunting.Istanbul 260  But I don’t understand why they consistently use over-modulated loudspeakers, or how electronic amplification became the religious norm.  Even in museums, the cantor uses a microphone to chant into a small room.
  •   Stray cats are everywhere; no stray dogs, though.  Tourists pet the feral animals; it’s probably only slightly less dangerous than petting bears in National Parks.
  •   Merchants and restaurants have amazing consideration and hustle for their customers.  Entrepreneurs should take note of Turkish attitudes towards customer service: they stand above the rest.
  • Istanbul 419   Tour buses are an absolute plague.  I began to suspect it after competing for space with them on Italian coastal roads, and am now firmly convinced after fighting throngs of tourists in Topkapi Palace.  In quantity, they block views, spew exhaust, and overwhelm venues with surges of people.  There have to be common-sense limits.
  •   Taxis have the right of way over everything else, and are absolutely fearless in rushing into narrow gaps in traffic.  Dutch cyclists wouldn’t survive five seconds.
  • Istanbul 092   Huge Turkish flags flutter everywhere, driven by national pride, history, culture...?  Overt nationalism makes me uncomfortable, whether in Oklahoma or Istanbul: there’s always a faint ‘with us or against us’ implication.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Idle questions on a Sunday afternoon expatrates meer creatieve?  (Are expatriates more creative?)

Gulliver’s  blog reports on a recent INSEAD study that concludes that there is something in the experience of living in foreign parts that helps foster creativity.  I would suspect that there is a self-selection bas at work: that the most creative people are also the ones most likely to see out cross-cultural experiences.  But the researchers claim to have adjusted for that, suggesting instead that

It may be that those critical months or years of turning cultural bewilderment into concrete understanding may instill not only the ability to “think outside the box” but also the capacity to realize that the box is more than a simple square, more than its simple form, but also a repository of many creative possibilities. 

I think that so many abstract ideas become real as an expat, from seeing the real art and architecture or learning a language as an everyday means of communication.  How and when people work and eat, organize politically and socially, become concrete alternatives to the best, conventional way of doing things.  In a Piaget’s sense, I think this exercises our ability to assimilate and to accommodate, fostering creativity (and occasional exhaustion).

(Note: I’m finding that “Expatriate” seems a difficult word to translate: something between foreigner (buitenlander) and exile (balling).)


Hoe vaak moeten oefenen wij? (How often should we exercise?)

5 to 7 days of exercise per week with 3000 to 3500 kcal/week of energy expenditure, according to a report in Circulation from the University of Vermont.

The researchers compared overweight patients in cardiac rehab, randomized to high-calorie-expenditure exercise vs. standard 7 to 800 kcal/wk routines for four months.  They report double the weight and fat mass loss, improved insulin resistance, and better cholesterol ratios after 5 months, benefits which remained at one year.

I normally do a half hour on the Il Fiore exercise bike four times a week.  At 400 kcal per session that’s about half what the study suggests.  I’ve increased my time to 45 minutes (600 kcal / session) five days per week to get to 3000.  It’s significantly more work for me: it must be huge for someone in rehab.  Still, I picked up a few kilos in Turkey that I’d like to lose, so I’m giving this a go.

And, yes, outdoor bike riding is much preferred…I need to get a bike, really. I will.  I promise.

R_KoceaWaar is de beste juwelen in het Nederland? (Where is the best jewelry in the Netherlands?)

According to the Economist, Nijmegen?  The introduction, giving a bit of perspective on Dutch culture behind their jewelers, is intriguing:

Humour and subversion are an intrinsic element of this kind of jewellery, which may explain why one European country, the Netherlands, has become a beacon for collectors… The Dutch “like to turn things upside down”. They possess a fierce merchant mentality, but do not like to display their wealth, preferring instead to show off their intellectual power…retaining their taste for being experimental.

The Galerie Marzee in Nijmegen is cited as an outstanding example of contemporary Dutch jewelry artists.  Galerie Ra, Galerie Louise Smit , and Galerie Rob Koudjs, all in Amsterdam, are also referenced.  The piece above is a brooch, Lichtkasten, by Rudolf Kocéa.

I especially liked the article’s allusion to jewelry as living sculpture, interacting with the environment and with the wearer, rather than as simple adornment.