Saturday, June 21, 2014

At the (phantom) chili festival

DSC06585 (786x1300)My first assertion is that, for all their knowledge of horticulture, history, and haute cuisine, Europeans have no idea of how to throw a Chili and Cheese festival.

Beans.  Beef.  Bar-b-q.  Maybe some Bluegrass music.  Dense fragrant smoke above black iron kettles bubbling with red sauce and yellow cheddar (not white).

Texas-style chili: Comfort food.

Christchurch held its first Cheese and Chilli Festival DSC06603 (1300x1146)today in fields out by the airport.  On entry, the first impression as of broods of hen parties, all in coloured, lettered shirts marking different life events worth celebrating together.  Then there was the rock music by a garage band of grey-haired guitarists and balding lead singers, much beloved.  Finally there were stallsDSC06600 (1300x974) for food, for drink, for Dorset travel, for charities.

But not for True Texas Chile Con Carne.

For that matter, ‘not for any sort of Chilli Con Carne.


I DSC06590 (1300x975)would assert that the ingredients were all there.  Cheeses: local varieties by the table, wheels and wedges.

There was meat, mostly pork sausages and game (‘The New Forest Butchers’, incongruous in a nature preserve).

DSC06595 (1300x991)And there were chili plants, red, orange, green, and purple fruit in bushy or leggy varieties (Stumpy or Fairy Light, respectively: we bought one of the latter)

The event was fun and fit the Chilli Plant theme well, DSC06592 (1300x975)from Chili-spiced mixed drinks to Chilli doused Paella, connected by stalls of ever hotter oils and extracts.

But it desperately needs someone to serve the namesake food.  Some entrepreneur, with vision, drive and recipes...

DSC06602 (1300x976)I did check: for £350 we can have a double stall for two days.  ‘Rent a couple of cauldrons, buy the beef and beans, simmer slowly and serve with sour cream for £4.50 a bowl.

A true, novel Chili experience for the Chilli fest. 

Dont_mess_with_tx_chiliChili potchili 1

So, my final assertion: What could be an easier success than that?  Now all I need is big hat and a strap line…

Friday, June 20, 2014

Among the redwoods

DSC06548 (1300x1020)I tapped impatiently at the satnav screen, stuck in a massive queue south along the A31 towards Ringwood.  I’d seen the backup, Londoners headed to the beaches for the weekend, and knew it extended almost up to Southampton.  The TomTom suggested veering through the New Forest, first to Brockenhurst, then along the coast.

And so it was that we landed, unexpectedly, in the Redwood Groves at Blackwater, near the Rheingold Lodge.

It’s not the sort of place you can find on purpose, along a single-track road, no postal code, in an empty corner of the New Forest.  But it is a beautiful grove of magnificent trees, completely out of place in this part of the world.

The Tall Trees Trail gives the best views, winding through a mile of familiar Douglas Firs and California Redwoods, carefully labeled DSC06561 (1300x975)in the manner of British naturalists.  There’s a little debris from winter storms, downed and tangled trunks, but otherwise it’s a quiet place of needles close underfoot and distant branches swaying overhead.

These trees are about 160 years old, very young compared to their New World parents.  But they have the same massive footprint, soft furry red bark, and soaring arrow-straight trunks, cloaked in absolute forest silence, that make the American groves so spiritual.

DSC06560 (1300x975) DSC06551 (1300x964)

And there is a historical link between them. 

The New Forest began as a Royal Hunting ground for William the Conqueror around 1067.  It sprouted numerous hunting lodges over succeeding centuries, and among the largest was the nearby Master Keeper’s Lodge.  This residence, occupied in 1628 by Woodward (H.M. Keeper of the Timbers), expanded under his direction to include DSC06549 (975x1300)lavish grounds as well as more room: gardens, ponds, ornamental plantings. 

Even as the Forest became increasingly neglected under Charles II and others, the foresters (later reduced to Nursery Keepers) kept adding to the Lodge and its gardens.  In the mid-1800s, the resident Forest Nurseryman added an arboretum, filling it with azaleas, rhododendrons, and non-native Douglas Firs and Redwoods planted from cuttings and seedlings from the United States. 

Today, this is preserved as the Tall Trees grove along the Ornamental Drive.

DSC06566 (1300x975)It turned out to be a lovely rest stop and picnic area, filtered sunlight highlighting the meadows and rivers beneath the trees.  With solstice arriving, it was nice to avoid the crowds for an afternoon and get a bit closer to nature for a ramble, especially one  unexpectedly familiar and out of place.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Political skills in the workplace

underwood 2We’re successfully winding up the first period of fundraising for the business, taking the product closer to production and clinical trials.  It’s been an intense process, refining our story and clarifying plans, connecting with old friends and new leads, ultimately converting people’s interest into investment.

In one sense, it’s been project management: articulating a vision, assembling a coalition, motivating action.  Like any project, it has a goal, advances through stages, needs time and resources.  But instead of yielding a product, the process of closing a funding round assembles external relationships with influential third parties.  That makes it more of a diplomatic process than a management one (Guittard 2012).  So, I thought, success is achieved through soft skills rather than hard ones (Robles 2012):   projecting integrity, communicating well, demonstrating courtesy, responsibility, social skills, positive attitude, leadership-development-skillsprofessionalism, flexibility. 

But this approach isn’t enough.  Closing the deal, securing investment, is a one-on-one process, selling an individual rather than recruiting an audience.

And that depends on hard political skills, not soft diplomatic ones.

I’ve been discussing the difference with colleagues: Diplomats build coalitions; politicians recruit followers.  Diplomats assemble support through intermediaries and councils; politicians make direct connections with individuals.  Diplomats build a framework of policy agreements; politicians cut deals. 

Tactically, it’s the  difference between West Wing and House of Cards.

2007-11_05-07Merrill and Reid (1981) described the necessary traits inn their work on Social Styles.  Their theory rests on two personality characteristics.  Do we ask (diplomacy) or tell (politics)?  Do we orient towards tasks (politics) or people (diplomat)?  These two axes produce four social types: diplomatic Amiables positioned across from political Drivers.

Ferris (2000, 2005) has more recently defined political skills as “the ability to effectively understand others at work, and to use such knowledge to influence others to act in ways that enhance one’s personal and/or organizational objectives”.  He has identified four key attributes of political competence:

  1. 0500230701001Social Awareness – able to astutely observe others to understand their behaviors and motives.
  2. Interpersonal Influence – able to influence and engage others using a compelling and charismatic interpersonal style.
  3. Networking – able to build diverse relationship networks across and outside of the organization.
  4. Sincerity –able to be forthright, open, honest, and genuine with others

Leslie (2012) later supplemented these qualities with two additional ones:

  • Emotions – able to express feelings appropriately, aware of the timing and presentation of what they have to say.
  • Management - able to communicate effectively with direct reports, teammates, and bosses: manages up as well as down.

I’ve been reading Mark Leibovoch’s book, This Town, about the insiders game of social networking and influence Underwood (2)building in Washington DC.  All of the political skills I’ve been discussing are on full display – it’s an illuminating study of the theory reduced to practiced art.  

In thinking about economic systems, I tend to focus on ecosystems as, (for example, Seven Days in the Art World). 

But, as my business matures and my role in it broadens, I can really see the relevance of having good political skills in addition to my more familiar diplomatic ones.  There is  real value in being able to navigate social networks as competently as technical ones for project management.e

It’s not difficult; its just different.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Its WC time again!

World CupThe World Cup has started in Brazil this week: the Dutch won a delightful match against the prior Cup winner, Spain, 5-1 on Friday.  It was fun to watch: highlights for all of the Dutch games can be seen here and the schedule is here.

The last World Cup was in 2010, a lifetime ago.  The Dutch always put the matches up on big screens in the town squares, and everyone dresses in orangje and drinks a lot of biertje.  When things go well, we all wave arms in the air and sing happy songs.  When things go badly, we link arms and sway and sing sad songs.  The revelry goes long into the night.

World Cup 2

It’s all great fun and good memories. 

My son was over for the match when I still lived in Arnhem.  He thought it was the best party ever.  We mounted Dutch flags on the Beamer and he pined for Dutch women in the  chanting crowds.

Later, it was a party in Maastricht for the 2010 match, the Dutch unexpectedly making it to the finals before losing 1-0 to Spain.

So, with this win, revenge is sweet.  As are the memories, tinged with wistful.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Matisse cut-outs, Tate Modern

1-matisse-ceramic-in-brody_s-courtyardHenri Matisse has always been one of my favorite artists.  He captures, with elegant simplicity and a minimum of lines, the essence of a scene or a person, capturing personality and movement with a few well-chosen strokes.  So I’ve really been looking forward to visiting the exhibit of his cut-outs, visible at the Tate Modern through September 7.

Its been nice to be able to drop through the Tate this year, unannounced, able to simply walk into any show, any time, with the Member’s Pass.  I visit more, linger more, take a friend and discuss the works one by one.  I wish it allowed me to photograph the works so that I can study them later, but it’s a wonderful spur to see the shows.

J165105801The Cut-Outs are a collection of works from late in Matisse’s life, in his 80s but still full of creativity and willing to explore new media. The still at the right is from a movie of him cutting a form, huge scissors making smooth shapes as he rotates the paper and shakes out the form to see the fronds wriggle, visualizing the art in three dimensions.  I thought that the works were finished on cutting, composed into collage, but there were actually several distinct purposes to the form.

WP_20140615_002 (720x990)Composition:  The early rooms show how Matisse used the paper shapes to compose pictures that the later painted.  Abstract triangles and orbs were pinned to paper and moved around until perfect the form and balance was achieved, then he would paint or print the results.  The finished works are identical to the compositions, linked by his working notes. 

Created with Nokia Smart CamI was tickled by the nudes in Acrobats (Spring-Summer: 1952), in which he used cutouts to augment the breasts, making the figure more voluptuous. 

You’re never too old to be a boy at heart.


Vence chapelModels:  In Room 7 he uses large cutouts to work out the arrangements of a chapel that he designed for the Dominican Chapel in Vence.   He created the glass window, the wall hangings, the priest’s vestments, all as an integrated life-sized whole, to be recreated as finished work in the chapel. 

Created with Nokia Smart Cam Created with Nokia Smart Cam

I liked the Madonna and Child, the obvious sketch lines as he fiddled with proportions, narrowing the hips, face, hair progressively until he Matisse - Christma Evehad the form that he wanted.

The Christmas Eve window in Room 14, cutout model alongside stained glass instantiation, is also fascinating for how he deconstructed the elementary shapes of the composition, adding lines and sections as he moved between the model and the finished media. I wouldn’t have done that, but that’s why I’m no Matisse.

Matisse Blue NudeFinished works:  The series of four Blue Nudes, separated in galleries around the world, have been brought together.  These are deconstructed monochromatic  figures, their parts separated but still unified by the way that he used negative spaces.  The images are replicated, refined, resized, and Matisse Creole Dancermultiplied throughout succeeding rooms, always full of life and movement.

Matisse Women with Monkeys

Creole Dancer, right, is an explosion of colour and a blur of life, created in a single day from pieces of left-over paper based on sketches of a model he entertained.

Murals:  These were the most delightful surprise of the show.

Matisse - Oceania 1 Matisse oceania_el_cielo (2)

As Matisse cut out large organic shapes, he would put them on the wall, initially to cover imperfections in the plaster, but later as fully considered works.  The result, vast murals that resemble underwater scenes (Oceania, above) or jungle environments (Vence studio, below).   Originally, the cut outs were open to the air and loosely attached, so they would sway and rustle in passing air currents.

Vence Studio

Even framed, as they are now, they are an absolute delight of form and colour,  filling the space with creativity and energy.

It’s a thoughtful and fun exhibit, a celebration well worth a couple of hours spent wandering the works back and forth to compare technique and  purpose.