Saturday, April 6, 2013

Naar Berlin

It was snowing when we come out of the underground near the Gedenkst├Ątte Mauer, a remnant of the Wall and the no-man’s-land that divided berlin for decades.  The wind was biting, the warmest spot was in the lee of the concrete slabs.  Everywhere, slabs, blocks, daubs of paint as slogans, protest, and decoration.

Every wall in Berlin seems to be  canvas for residents to express their feelings; every gust echoes the cold history of  the city.


Berlin is not a happy place  I’d been reading about it’s renaissance as a center for art, media, and technology, but the reality feels abandoned and incomplete, not yet reconciled with its history or its future.  The city has a wonderful transport system, wide boulevards and a wonderful system of trains and trams.  But the monumental streets are bordered by buildings being torn down, leafless empty parks, and block high-rises devoid of windows.  Only Potsdamer Platz feels alive and electric.

I think it’s a result of the city being leveled during the War, then partitioned afterwards, first into four occupation zones, later into Ost and West.  As a result, it never had a unified urban plan, and individual projects rose among monuments, sacred jostling with commercial, hurried new construction rising on foundations of buried terrors.


My friend loves history, so we went to see the sight: the Wall, the SS Museum, Checkpoint Charlie, the Stasi compound, the Holocaust memorial.  The procession of death and suffering blends with the cold wintry weather, a tapestry of governments hurting people across a hundred years. 


As history, it’s all interesting and informative, well preserved, labeled, acknowledged in a public penance that wavers between sincere regret and overbearing theater.   The food is good; the people are abrupt.

On the last day, the sun finally came out, and I could sense a bit of what the city might be in better seasons, better times.   But I’m in no hurry to return.

More pictures, as always, at my Flickr site.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Terug langs de Maas

It’s been a few weeks since I visited mijn man-grot aan de Maas: fortunately the flat and the bicycle are still intact and functioning.  I may need to prevail on a neighbor to scatter some welcome-tulips around so that there’s some color and life to the rooms, but it’s nice to have the boats and people rushing past along the ‘skade again.

I’ve been fighting a negativity spiral back in the UK for months now.  It’s corrosive.  When the business tasks get difficult and the milestones stop accumulating, people seem to lose heart and interest.  They start looking for a way out rather than a way forward.  I’m a can-do optimist, but the daily grind of calling partners, directors, vendors, and lawyers has not been much fun. 

I know it’s a game: I play to win and I will succeed.  But sometimes, sometimes, I feel like it’s a game I shouldn’t have to be playing at all.

We are facing problems that I understand and know how to solve.  I have confidence, drive, and good people alongside.  It should be easy, fun.

But with the short time available, our diminishing cash reserves, and need to utterly destroy one thing for the good of all the others, we are facing tough constraints.  It becomes stressed, frustrating.

I realize, more than I ever did before, the fragility of business, dependent on intermittent revenues and financing to sustain constant and growing expenses and commitments. It’s worse if you are small, your assets few, your backers distant, and you’ve made a few enemies along the way.

Just ask Cyprus.

What restores me each day is a combination of  big vision and small steps.

Every day I spend time practicing the principles that underlie our business.  Bakken’s  Medtronic Mission (1960) and Johnson’s J&J Credo (1943) are solid reminders of what a medical device company should strive to be: responsible to their physicians and patients, to their employees, to their communities, and to their shareholders.  Both were written by company founders at difficult times in the firm’s early development.  Those principles, and the people working to realize them, are the reason we’re in business.

And every day I achieve at least small steps forward.  The big problems may not be solved when I turn off the computers and extinguish the lights each night, but I’ve learned something, completed important tasks, contributed towards finding the answers, secured the resources that advance us towards solutions.  It’s a bit like learning Dutch, mastered an hour at a time towards Gladwell’s 10,000: there isn’t a fast or simple fix.  There’s just the persistence that multiplies the cards in your hand and the skill to play them well.

My favorite film critic, the recently deceased Roger Ebert, wrote that there’s a point where an ending becomes inevitable, when there are no more plans to be made that forstall it.  At twilight, I wonder.  As CEO, I worry.  At 58, I doubt.

I reflected on all off this with a friend, turning 60.  How we never feel old because of the living things, family, friends, skills,and interests that connect and enrich life.  You only realize how long its really been when you remember the the obsolete technology, vintage cars, broken toys: the things discarded along the way.

Not the living things and relationships that we create grow, and nurture. There are still plans to be made, cards to be laid.  We’ll get through this.  And if we don’t, well then:  As long as I had my family, a patch of land, something to eat, I’d be happy. MR

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Google Poetics

PoeticsThere’s a meme making the rounds based on Google Searches called Google Poetics.   The basic idea is to start typing a thought in the search bar.  Google offers suggestions for how to complete the thought, based on prior searches and what’s popular.  The resulting suggestions create a four-line poem that seem both revealing and poignant.

Google poetics 2I played with it over the weekend.  Typing “My startup is “ gives a pretty good indication of how things are going in entrepreneurship-land at the moment:

Poetics 3Some are curiously philosophical (I get more interesting answers from the UK version than the US)

To which  would contribute:

2013 has not been warm

2013 has not been kind

2013 has not been successful

2013 has not been easy