Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saturday, reflections along the water

Life is always worth living when a person keeps alive their capacity to appreciate what the world has to offer.  Julian Baggini

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Winding down the week

DSC06448 (1300x974)I hit the road early, headed south into London for three sets of investor meetings.  I took the bus / train / tube combination so that I’d have some time to work along the way, consolidating notes and slides, preparing for questions.

I also enjoyed an essay in the Times describing the arrival of American production workers in the small Italian town of Melfi, where the Fiat plant is being converted to make Jeeps.  A cross-cultural specialist was brought in to teach the autoworkers about dealing with Americans: he summed the differences up as the Three C’s:

  • Control: America’s passion for order and predictability.
  • Competition: Americans are prepared to lose in order to win, in almost every aspect of life.
  • Choreography:  Americans are convinced that anything important has also got to be spectacular, if not plain over the top, and ear-splittingly loud.

DSC06447 (959x1300)And, he reminded them, remember that You’re Italians. No one else is so skillful at turning a crisis into a party.  Ah, Europe.

The meetings were challenging: while I am aces when it comes to managing the project and recruiting resources, planning and motivating, I can still get twisted up separating pre-market from in-market debates.  We’re setting up a pilot production facility to make units for regulatory  and clinical trials, all good.  But then the conversation veered:

“Can that facility be transferred directly to a final manufacturer without disturbing the CE Mark?”  Yes, we’ve planned for that.

“How many consumable units could you potentially make from that facility?”  Perhaps 5000 per year.

“And if you receive 1 gbp profit per consumable unit, your net revenues would be £5000 for that line?”

The truth, of course, is that we would only seed the market to demonstrate update from that line: real revenues would come from licensing to a global manufacturer / distributor.  But until the questions hit, the answers aren’t at the tip of my tongue.

I know the limits of what I do well; we’ll hire someone with solid in-market experience to extract the value from any business I start.

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London was otherwise beautiful: warm and sunny for conference calls in the park.  I did some shopping along Oxford Street, learned that I may aspire to Selfridges but am more comfortable in Debenhams.  Then the train back to  the bus back to the car in Cambridge, food shopping, gas, ‘aim south and hit the gas at 7 pm.

I was back in Bournemouth just before nightfall.  I pulled onto the East Cliff to look for the Branzilla, but there was nothing to see anywhere along the coast.

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DSC06464 (1015x1300) ‘But there was still some wonderful moonlight reflecting over the sea.

The Fiesta’s windshield was hit by a rock a couple of weeks ago.  There was a sharp crack against the passenger glass and a star, rapidly expanding to a hooked crack.   I’d been charged 600 euros the last time the windshield needed replacing, and a quick call to two UK shops yielded estimates up from £600.

An autoglass repair truck along the motorway told me that I should be able to fix it for less than £250, and I did locate a Poole glass company that would do it for £236.  They dropped through early this morning and fixed it in about an hour.

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So, ‘back on the road, with cash to spare, into the weekend.  There should be time for cliff walks, London on Sunday for the Matisse exhibit, and back to the phones Monday morning.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Our monsters, our values


A flaxen-maned sea creature, two stories tall, has waded ashore in Bournemouth this week.  All I can say is that it wasn’t there on Sunday…

The monster was made personal in the spirit of Richard Branson, put up by Virgin Media as part of a new publicity campaign. It will undoubtedly travel from beach to beach around Britain this summer before, in all likelihood, heading to permanent repose on Necker Island.

It’s also kind of cool: I  hope it stays a couple of days until I get back into town to have a look on Friday.

The  notion of personalized monsters got me thinking about the converse: the sort imagined by WH Auden in The Ascent of F6.  In the play, a group of climbers ascends a haunted mountain, where an embodiment of each person’s hidden flaws kills them, one by one.

The  Guardian stuck a similar theme in an article about how people form their personal values.  The author suggested two principle origins,  one based in history (shifting baseline syndrome: We perceive the circumstances of our youth as normal and unexceptional) and one based in environment (values ratchet: We are shaped by accepted social norms and governmental policies around us).

Nostalgia and environment, together, drop people along a spectrum of value types, ranging from Intrinsic (high levels of self-acceptance, strong bonds of intimacy and a powerful desire to help others) to Extrinsic (Greater need for external validation, seek financial rewards and power, more competitive against others). 

The paper holds that we’re currently in an era dominated by Extrinsic values.  It is both created by the political dominance of conservative policies and feeds back to reinforce them.  Thus DSC06426 (1300x1074) inequality, intolerance, environmental degradation, and social injustice all increase as opposition withers.

Although I’m sympathetic to the Guardian’s conclusion (the world would, indeed be a better place if we were nicer to each other), I think that the argument used to get there is very forced.  In particular, I disagree that personal values are so easily shaped by perceived historical and political norms. 

What, then, does explain the prevalence of Extrinsic personal values, selfishness and intolerance, and the corresponding decline of social cooperation, inclusiveness, and mutual aid?

I think that the key is that people act defensively when they feel threatened: they protect their own interests and dismiss other people's, gravitating towards Extrinsic behaviours.

Personal circumstances such as aging, job loss, weakened relationships, financial or health worries can trigger extrinsic behaviours.  So, more distantly, are perceived dangers of crime, terrorism, deficits, inflation or immigration. 

As can uncertainty and isolation, two snares waiting to trap expats and entrepreneurs.

Success as an expatriate or an entrepreneur requires Intrinsic values: tolerant and cooperative interpersonal and social skills.  Adoption of Extrinsic personal values Branzillaundermines necessary attitudes and relationships.

So, the danger isn’t, as suggested by the Guardian, in the way politics or media foster Extrinsic values, putting human hair onto the monster.  The danger comes from inside each of us, is in how we regard our history and context, keeping our inner Branzilla at bay.

In the words of the Cherokee, it is determined by the wolf we each choose to feed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Working in the Club Room

DSC06418 (1278x1300)I’m in Cambridge today, a luncheon for my (only) employee and meetings with investors.  Tomorrow is a syndicate meeting in London,  with plans to be back to the coast before nightfall.

Cambridge is having a beautiful summer’s day.  Banners are flying for the upcoming Tour de France bike race, passing through town on 7th July, and the Lent Bumps boat races are on for this weekend.  It’s the mix of deeply familiar and wholly new that defines each DSC06425 (716x1300)visit and so many things ‘Cambridge.

The people are the part that I miss.

All of the old places and routines surround me,  restaurants and shops, the college and science buildings, Waitrose and the Park n Ride / Guided Bus.  So I always catch myself expecting to see familiar faces around each corner. 

But they are never there.  It’s a  strangely disconnected déjà vu results.

The Neutron Bomb was an iconic concept in the 1970’s, a weapon that would remove people without damaging the buildings.  Cambridge has that same ‘post-Neutron’d’ feel (as did Vanderbilt when I returned years after graduation). 

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This evening is the annual Wolfson Sports Recognition Dinner.  Lots of young men with flushed faces and skewed ties, telling stories with a cadence of sophisticated irony expected of Cambridge.

Another hour and they’ll set aside the pretense and the night will really begin.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sunday at the seaside

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At the Shaftesbury Festival

DSC06257 (944x1300)Shaftesbury is a Saxon hill town overlooking beautiful Blackmore Vale, about an hour’s drive north of Poole.  The town is the site of the Royal Abbey: Alfred the Great founded it, King Canute died nearby, King Edward’s relics performed miracles in the gardens. Today, it’s the site of the annual Shaftesbury Festival, a week of music, food, and craft demonstrations.

Summer festivals are held throughout England, each with a local flavour but all featuring similar charity booths, cider stands, and period costumes.  For me, they’re becoming less an exploration of food and history than an opportunity to enjoy music, art, and footraces in the sun.

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Music is provided by local ensembles who have dusted off their drums and guitars, flutes and voices, for a mix of rock standards and lyric chorales.  The best groups are the folks my age, dusting off their instruments for a little nostalgia.  They sound a bit like Three Dog Night (who are, amazingly, still alive, touring, and releasing albums) – its all good fun (until I realize the age group that I’ve slipped into at these performances).  Strong, dry cider definitely helps the musical appreciation.

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The arts included some nice woodworks and Dorset watercolours, decorated trees and Tudor crafts.  I spent some time with a local volunteer learning the history of the Abbey and of the ongoing court fights over possession of Edward’s remains.

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The footrace was a “Cheese Roll” up Gold Hill.  Unfortunately, there was little actual rolling, up or down, the steep cobbles: racers simply shouldered the truckles and ran the length of the street (winning time, 16 seconds).

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