Friday, October 26, 2012

Into the office

This week, we moved into new offices and hired our first employees, both huge milestones for the company.  Although technically still pre-revenue, we’re feeling a lot more ‘real’ (and I feel much more responsible – its all a bit sobering to think about).  Still, it’s a quiet thrill when someone asks where we can all get together and we say ‘How about our offices?”

Truly a milestone.

The furniture went into place nicely – the activity areas fit in the way we expected that they would, the internet and phones are up, and the blinds and kitchen supplies are in.  We’re missing a few bits of miscellany (plugs, scissors, coat-rack…) and the printer and server took longer to set up than expected.  The room is a bit echo-y, but there’s a plan for everyone to bring in their favorite (non-family) picture to blow up into fabric panels to soften the walls  The view out the balcony and over the gardens is wonderful. And it’s great having the whole group together and able to have a face-to-face conversation when things come up.

It’s a change in work-style though.

“The Office” means getting across-town in traffic, morning and afternoon, I’m still learning the tricks of back roads when the A14 is clogged, and the “PlusBus” train-transit combo from Shepreth to St. John’s still eludes me.  It means dressing for a real office rather than a home office.  It means appointments and meetings.

The balance between meetings and individual work time is still coming into focus.  Scheduling via a shared calendar is an evolving art (I will not use Outlook, though: it’s too reminiscent of Corporate when it dictated my every waking minute).

But, overall, it’s an agreeable change and feels like a big organizational improvement.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sharing stories well

DSC03813Last week, Mitt Romney was asked what he would do as president to close the wage gap between men and women.  He told a story about how, as Governor, he faced a situation where he wasn’t being presented with qualified women candidates for his executive openings.  He demanded, and received, binders full of women and went on to create one of the most balanced teams in the country.  The story  didn’t answer the question, and also started a meme about “Binders of Women” that still reverberates.

Last night, I met the British trade representative from Houston, at a BIA reception where I was speaking.  We both looked for connections to anchor our conversations: his was telling a story about American’s abroad who relocated their businesses to Houston; mine was about a ride-along that I did with the Houston paramedics Both of us told good anecdotes, but neither of us connected.  Our stories were associated with Houston, but disconnected from one another.

People organize space by creating pictures; they organize time using narrative, observes David Lodge.  People tell stories.  When executives debate policy, they swap anecdotes; when politicians woo voters, they share experiences.  Telling the  right story, and telling it well, is a key conversation and presentation skill that I’ve been reflecting on lately.

I often tell short stories in my blog essays, thoughts and observations organized around an event or idea.  I never go back and change a post,but I sometime regret the way that they turn out.

It most often happens when I experiment with painting a story, as with Route 52.  I wanted to try to evoke the feeling of the countryside, it’s contrasts with Europe an d the ‘otherness’ that familiar scenes turn into after being away for years.  But it wandered, capturing snapshots without tying the underlying ideas together.

Expats and Entrepreneurs have deep pools of stories that they can share.  But selection and timing, as in comedy, are everything.  It leads me to four thoughts to keep in mind when I write or tell stories:

  • Stories should have a point.
  • Stories should fit into a relevant context.
  • Stories should be clear and develop towards a conclusion.
  • Stories should be meaningful to both audience and purpose

I’ve learned how speaking skills, style and presence, can be improved by watching Obama’s old stump speeches or Jobs’  early product introductions.  Similarly, good examples of skilled storytellers at work can be illuminating, both the structure (reading narrative non-fiction in magazines like the Atlantic or Best Essays compilations) and the flow ( From Our Own Correspondent or This American Life).  Ira Glass has a wonderful series of YouTube videos about How To Tell A Story.

As George says, it’s about Design, Composition, Tension Balance, Light, and Harmony.

So I’m pausing, just a moment, before launching into an anecdote to be sure I’m telling a story.  From  my observation, Mitt seems to be learning the lesson too, even as Barack forgot it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Time for a Tablet?

This rat’s nest of wires and gadgets is my on-road kit, recharging:  Three phones, a computer, a camera, an mp3 player, a clock/alarm, sometimes a TomTom or voice recorder, all with universal adapters.   They nestle into a shoulder bag, which also has my diary, my expense book, my notes-book, a Dutch dictionary, Dutch workbook, magazines, a book or two,  hair brush and reading glasses.

Except for the brush and glasses, is it time to consolidate?

The anachronistic folly was emphasized during a recent planning meeting: when it was time for a date check, everyone pulled out phones and tablets.  I whipped out the trusty Cambridge Diary and a pen.  For goodness sake: you’re the tech guy!, hooted my companions.  “ ’not an issue”, I grimaced.  But when I got back to Cambridge I went looking for the 2013 edition and it became one: my 800-year-old institution had finally given up on printing paper diaries.

It’s clearly time to move on, get with the 21st century.


Although I’m not completely trusting of cloud storage and worry about the risk of losing everything if catastrophe befalls a tables, the emerging 7” form factor is appealing, and cheap enough to experiment with.  Most of the printed material has on-line equivalents that can be red off-line, and it shouldn’t be much trick to consolidate audio media.  I’ll likely hold the camera (and reading glasses) separate for now (people do look ridiculous taking photos with a tablet), but otherwise everything should go into one electronic device (and power cord).

7inchers_scFortunately, this is Tech-tablet-announcement week: Apple early, Microsoft mid, and Google late, all with new products.   The Surface is likely too large for what I want, Apple’s Mini will probably be too expensive.  That leaves Nexus: so if Google comes up with 3G connectivity, I’m ready to take the leap and she the shoulder-bag.

‘Advice to a tech-savvy, tablet-na├»ve road warrior is welcome!

Follow-on: Nov 1 – There’s now good information coming out from reviewers on all of the options now that product launches are complete.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Missing the flight

Ten days on the road is a little long, especially given the intensity of meetings and the many time zones crossed.   So, it was a relief to settle into the flight east from Minneapolis: no upgrade, and older plane without media, but a comfortable seat and eight hours to decompress.  I did a bit of reading, a little Dutch study, a little reorganization of disk files.

We landed in Amsterdam about 2 pm; my onward flight on EasyJet wasn’t until 6.  So I crossed Passport Control (questions about my expired residence permit), picked up my bag, and camped out t Starbucks to sort through emails.  4 pm, check into EasyJet, back through passport control, more questions.   Lots of time,so check into the KLM Lounge, find a quiet corner….

… and fall asleep.

I always dread the thought of missing a flight, so it was horrible to wake, check the monitors and find that my plane was no longer listed.  EasyJet has no transfer desk, so…

‘back through Passport Control (explanations…),

conclave with EasyJet (they can get me to Luton),

sort out how to get my bag (offloaded and adrift in Schiphol).

Offloaded baggage is handled by Menzies, a cargo handling company that resides in Baggage Claim.  So, back through Passport Control (weary explanations), then to four desks looking for the rep.  A walkie-talkie consultation revealed that my bag had been delivered to Carousel 20 where I found it tagged alarming orange.  Back through security, check in with EasyJet (again), back through Passport Control (the agent knew my name as I approached).

I took no chances and propped myself up at the entrance to H concourse to wait for the flight.

It could have been much worse: it cost three hours and 75 euro.  And I took the hint to get a good night’s sleep and take the weekend off.