Saturday, September 20, 2014

One lap around the Poole (lagoon)

DSC08610 (1300x951)Herfst is arriving, just a touch of colour in the trees and a rolling fog in the mornings, but summer is gone as surely as the beach crowds. 

However, The Inside Out festival is rolling through Dorset this month, and there was a bamboo sculpture exhibition in Poole Park that had attracted some attention.  I haven’t spent a lot of time in Poole,, preferring the long beaches and upscale coffee shops of Sandbanks when I want to sit and look over the ocean.

This was the chance.

Unfortunately, once I arrived, I found that the sculpture park had been taken down.  Still, it was a good opportunity for a ramble an otherwise grey day.

So, an hour’s walk around the lagoon to look at the birds, boats, and leaves, finding a few photo-ops.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Labor, capital, and getting clean floors

WP_20140920_001 (1300x734)Today was  my cleaning day in the shared spaces outside the Lilac Room. I know this because the girls in the house have created a schedule, posted it with the areas to be cleaned, the means for doing so, and names of those responsible, a month at a time.

Actually, last weekend was my day.  But I was away and my absence was duly noted, scrawled as tsk-banter on the empty column of boxes that I should have checked.  I changed the date and was up early, DSC08054a couple of hours got things clean top to bottom.

There was a time that I would not have done as much.  If I paid the bills, I could rationalize that my time was better spent working, earning, and that it was fair that others do (most of) the cleaning. 

I’m not a messy person, so the burden of vacuuming, washing, kitchens and bathrooms seemed like a small burden. 

Besides, nobody has ever been happy with the quality of my bathroom cleaning.

Cleaning the sinks, I reflected on how immature and dated this felt.  There’s no reason not to pitch in with the work, and its demeaning to toss money over the transom at an equal partner. 

And I realized that I was wading into a larger think about the proper roles of Capital and Labor.

I’ve been listening a discussion on BBC Analysis of Hall and Soskice’s book Varieties of Capitalism.  They describe two forms of capitalism.   Liberal Market Economies, in the US / UK style, use management hierarchies and competitive markets to determine  businesses activities.  Coordinated Market Economies, like Germany and Sweden, rely on non-market relationships with labor, governments, and banks to coordinate business activities.

Coop liberal

It’s like the political hard power / soft power dichotomy, but applied to corporate operations.

And each model has advantages: in boom times, markets thrive; in downturns, relationships count.

My intuition about investor/management/labor partnerships puts me squarely in the Coordinated camp. 

My business needs both investors who put in money, and contractors and employees who complete the tasks. My home requires income to pay for housing and goods, and work to complete the tasks of everyday living.

In my businesses, in my home, I appreciate the need and the worth of both contributions:  they have equal footing in assuring our success.

But I have to say that  the theory doesn’t work well in practice.

The folks who invest in me want things done twice as fast as I am able, while the people who I count on to get things done move half as fast as I need,  I commented to a friend.

That’s because the owners of the business have more incentive than the people without ownership, he suggested,

It’s likely true: the perceived risks and rewards skew much more towards those who provide capital than to those who provide labor. 

sweat equityStill, there’s a real sense that those who work for the business, who know the most about it, and who build it alongside everyone else have an equal claim on it’s success.  A fair distribution of success would reward both hard- and ‘sweat-’ equity.

I try to strike a balance, cooperatively building good relationships and implementing shared rewards, while understanding that management and market realities are driven by economic power and zero-sum resourcing.  The blend seems possible: I’ve seen it work well with Work Council participation alongside management  in the Netherlands.

Leaning on my mop, I looked across my spotlessly clean floor.  ‘A good morning’s work.

DSC08053In the past, a logical partnership of paying the mortgage/rent and of cleaning/ maintaining the premises seemed fair and efficient (for example, if we both did our part, we could kick back together on weekends). 

These days, with income and assistance both in short supply, I happily fill both roles, and will likely never go back to the old ways.

It’s good to be capable; it’s good to be humble.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Social identity and Hackney Wick

DSC08583 (1300x953)Opinions differ on the authenticity of Hackney Wick.  Historically, it’s an inner city industrial site along London’s Lea River, ribbed by tributary canals and factories.  Today, it’s a redeveloping neighborhood, given new life by the nearby 2012 Olympic venues and various community and arts grants.

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Its character is harder to define.  Superficially, it is a gritty maze of graffiti’d walls and urban bars, rundown buildings and overgrown concrete.  But it also looks too rough by half: a clever stage-set to attract younger renters and develop artist’s lofts?

It’s hard to judge: while the buildings and streets are in disrepair. the roughness doesn’t feel unsafe, the the street art can seem carefully placed.

How are we to judge contextual authenticity, the source or strength of social identity?

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I was similarly talking with friends last week about how national, as opposed to neighborhood,  identity is established.  The shape, laws, and cultures of the UK have aggregated over millennia, rights of men and women evolving from one monarch to the next.  But does also foster a weaker sense of shared identity, such that  the Scots could consider an exit after 300 years.

The US, in contrast, defines itself with strong national roots instead of regional ones. Historically, the government sprang into being fully formed, with constitutional law borrowed from the British and French, a strong dose of individual rights, and a spirit of frontier self-reliance.

I would expect that a stronger identity results from the authenticity of older roots and organic growth that are characteristic of the UK, just as stronger neighborhoods should be built by long-standing residents with shared values.

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But it doesn’t seem to hold that way, either north towards the Orkneys nor south towards Hackney Wick.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Art of Design

DSC08579 (1300x1183)People first become aware of Dutch design through architecture.

Sweeping organic home facades; Jenga-like stacks of rectangular boxes assembled into a skyscraper. Geometric glass facades tipped with  Mondrian-inspired blocks of colour; bridges that leap and interiors that enfold. 

All with a touch of the whimsical and fantastical.

Dutch-VillaLibrary BirminghamThe Cube_Architecturenemo-amsterdam-bridgeRotterdam SkylineRotterdam MarkthalHilversumlibrary

It extends to Dutch product design more generally, characterized as minimalist, experimental, innovative, quirky, and humorous.


I do get to where I know it when I see it, as sure as the ‘two objects / no curtains’ rule for identifying a Dutch window.


DSC08574 (1300x947)Although Design (form and style that fits function and purpose) often has a contemporary feel in Europe, it has deep roots.  The Morris Gallery in north London showcases the Arts and Crafts ideas of designer, craftsman, and socialist William Morris.  It emerged from late 19th century pre-Raphaelite romanticism and an anti-industrial return to traditional materials and folk styles.

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He achieved a light, delicate look to chairs and tables that is very contemporary, although his tapestries and wallpapers look more Oriental and dated.  The museum gives good account of the range of his works and the evolution of his thinking.

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Morris was also something of a Utopian, writing News from Nowhere, a fictional account of a man waking into a future society that thrives despite the absence of private property, big cities, authority, money,  courts, schools, prisons… 

Morris favored a more pastoral, less industrial life “ that the material surroundings of my life should be pleasant, generous, and beautiful”. 

In that way, and in the designs through which he expressed his political and philosophical ideals, he predates Eindhoven’s Design Academy and it’s organic, humanist creations.

I was (also) partial to the Interactive Entrepreneur game, in which you try to use limited funds to find commissions, hires designers, buy materials, and deliver products to build William’s business.  Jane Morris - Proserpine(You can play it online

While my brand thrived, my profits were mediocre, earning me a tongue lashing from my wife, Jane (right) who famously slept with another pre-Raphaelite.

Interestingly, the William Morris & Co. Design group still exists (and thrives) by making fashionable textiles and luxury fabrics.