Always when a passport is full, turning the last page is a nostalgic event ending a life passage. Visas are a modern form of "racism" in my view and sometimes quite a nuisance. But they are also a nice souvenir punched or glued into my little red booklet which accompanied me through so many parts of the world in recent years. Now it is not just full but also falling apart, and my repairs caused recently suspicion at the Hong Kong immigration, reminding me kindly that this may not be regarded as a valid travel document anymore in other places. So it's time for a new one. I have many exotic visas in my collection. But one stamp is very special. It is not from entering a country. It was punched in my passport in Port Lockroy, Antarctica, upon landing with a Zodiac from a Russian Ice Breaker - on November 16th, 2011. They say that all people who cannot get a hold of the earth. slide down the planet and meet down there in Antarctica. Time to go back then. New passport is in the making.
Good to be back to Germany. The Universities of Hong Kong are nice places to hang out, and I really liked my time at The University of Hong Kong this autumn. Its the best season, and it also gave me the chance to catch up with friends. But the city: even I appreciate it as a market place, the dullness of the trader's culture takes its toll after a few weeks. The more now I enjoy to be back to Germany. Strolling around Frankfurt University and switching back to "production mode". My resolution is now not to work on weekends anymore. So time for the museum, the theatre and the cinema. But its really cold. Christmas is coming. Snow on the first Advent Sunday. Perfect.
After 2 months in Hong Kong, it is time to say goodbye. But I will be back. This time I spent my time in Central which was a new habitat. I lived in The Helena May Building, though most of my time stayed in the annex, as in the main common areas I could not blend in with the furniture and felt unable to comply with the long list of what not to do. I think it needs more of a colonial spirit or upper-class aspiration for that to really appreciate the full range of it. What I will miss is the Lee Wing Kee flower shop, my friends and, the monkeys in the zoo and my running trail in Hong Kong Park.
Life has not treated me very well in 2017. And so, I am happy just bringing the year into a soft landing at its end. The drama reached another climax when I must have dropped unconscious swimming in the South China Sea a few weeks ago. I made the whole trip to "the other side" and back with an unknown duration of cardiac arrest and I am grateful to the person who rescued me and the emergency team. I am a tough cookie. I was never on "sick leave" in my life. And it would have been embarrassing to call in sick the first time with a death certificate. Still pulled through all my obligations but took life easy in between those. This came to me as another surprise of the things which can suddenly happen to you.
You remember them from your University days? These people who would do your homework, tutor you for your exam, come over to repair your water heater, open the door when you locked yourself out, fix your computer, your bike, your car? They would give you their lunch boxes, lent you their books which they never reminded you to give them back, and they returned your overdue books to the library paying your penalty for it, without ever mentioning it. They were useful, resourceful and friendly. But they were also a bit exhausting to deal with. They invited you to museums, the theatre, a lecture, and they cook at home instead of going to a restaurant.
And what did you call them when gossiping with your friends? Nerd, weird, gay ...? And what did the nerds do then? They perhaps made a better lunch box and shared it again. Not for some religious belief, but because they already understood why you are doing that. And they did not mind. This made them even weirder in your eyes. Usually, with graduation, these people disappeared. They choose different paths. But be aware, you might see them again.
Nerds are one of the strongest "secret societies" you can imagine. They are everywhere. They may be the chairman of your company or running your R&D department. They may be sitting in front of you, next time you pitch for funding of your company. Or perhaps they are your doctor when you are sick. Perhaps they run the theatre you go, the museum you bring your kids. They may be the painter you like or the owner of the patent you need. Nerds learn how to adapt over time. They are not that easy to recognize later in life. They have no special way to shake hands or secret riddles to identify to each other. But when you find a real breakthrough technology, product, service or thought somewhere, then follow the signs. It is very likely they will guide you to somebody whose book you still have somewhere. It is still time to return it, by the way. Never too late.
Efficiency makes stupid. That's why I am sometimes puzzled what to respond when people praise "German efficiency" and even ask me for advice. Yes, I happen to be German, and I do get a lot of things done. But this is not because of a magic spell or culture, but mainly because I don't waste time. I have seen some statistics that people waste on average 4 hours a day. So if you want to improve your efficiency, it's a no-brainer just to stop that. Typical time-wasting activities are social media, commuting, socializing with meaningless people ("networking"), business dinners ... and the like. If you feel, you have to do some of it for social conformity, then here comes another time waster: caring what other people think.
The next thing to eliminate is everything counterproductive. For example, I remember when staying in the City (of London), there was a pub just outside the apartment. From Friday afternoon white color workers started to drink excessively and far beyond enjoyment to get over the work week with far too long hours. They felt that they deserve it, and continued until a hangover took them down usually on Sunday mornings. Like this, they ruined weekend after weekend and made their work week even more miserable. The only adventure they could talk about on Mondays was how bad it was on Sunday. It is not clear to me, why many people "reward" themselves with activities which make things worse, or actively engage in other counterproductive activities. Again a no-brainer: making things worse does neither make you more efficient nor happier.
Just with these two measures, there are already 5 x 4 hours plus the 32 hour weekend (excluding sleep time), equals 52 hours saved. That's more than a full headcount in operational terms. And this is without applying technology, doing coaching, listening to a guru, or getting a self-help book. Just putting two no-brainers together is more than enough.
Now, let's take the next step and eliminate all the bullshit (going to useless meetings, nonsense communication, information overload, business travel): easily 2 hours a day saved, without even doing any process change or blaming your own inefficiency on the organization you work in. If you think the organization makes you inefficient, often it is not the organization itself. It is a few inefficient people. Those who are late, or don't even turn up, don't deliver to specs, and just waste other people's time. All you can do here is: dump them. Some of them may really have a problem and need support. Then have a second look and be forgiving. But dump the Divas, assholes, and psychopaths. And finally, when technology comes into play used effectively for administrative tasks, we should get down to a 4 hour "work day" without dropping anything relevant.
This was very much the budget view. But further, we have to think about the "work day" as a concept altogether and whether time is the right dimension to relate to. I believe ideas like "work-life-balance" are confusing a lot of people because they imply that there is a difference between work and life. That might be correct when you work on an assembly line or in a coal mine. And even there it does not have to be. I have absolutely no idea how much time I spend on what and I only count hours sometimes for billing purposes. I also don't care about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators, for those of you who are not into the jargon). Everything which makes the difference between doing something good or bad is beyond KPIs anyway. And doing a good job is very important. Producing bad quality is not just betraying others, but also a big waste of time for yourself. It will catch up with you. It's like the often misunderstood 80/20 rule. The 20 % will kill you later if you stop there. The rule I like is 101/-1. Do things today, which save you time and resources tomorrow.
So, now that we have all this time saved, what do we do with it? We don't want to become stupid, right? Perhaps, here comes what "German efficiency" really is about: go home, spend time with your real friends, seek inspiration, train your skills, participate in cultural life, read books, invent new things. And then make the best machines in the world. Make the best cars. Do outstanding research. Create knowledge and IP (Intellectual Property). Not because, you want to be "competitive", but because you like it. Or be a poet or philosopher. Just because you like rhyming and thinking. Make music. Paint. I think, the real trick is to devote your life to something you love doing. And then do it.
rOobin Golestan one day told us: "I have seen the truth and it doesn't make sense". From that day on, I knew he was up against Igor, the brain tumor (he gave it that name). Now rOobin is gone for one more time, off to look for the truth. This time he will have to tell us in another world what he found out. Yesterday, Igor won. It is never that somebody dies and the other one doesn't. It is just that somebody goes first. rOobin is leaving behind his wife, two small children, his family, and his friends. And rOobin was a great friend. We have lost one of the most creative spirits among us. I know, rOobin would have loved it if I crack a joke now. But I can't. I feel deep sorrow for all those who miss him dearly. And I miss him a lot myself. Take good care rOobin. The world is less bright now. I still remember the first scooter rides through the Hutongs in Beijing, the meetings we sat through, the laughs we had (the loud ones and the suppressed ones), your stories inspiring our world travel plans, the vegetarian pizza in Essen, your new side business in Munich. Nothing is forgotten, and nothing will be.
Last week I picked up some chestnuts in Frankfurt and gave them to Feibai. She put them on the window as a winter feed for her squirrels, but she did no t know a thing about what she had in her hands. The Miniermoth is bringing down the trees since they first were identified in Macedonia in 1989. The photos below, are moth infections seen in Breda (Netherlands) in fall 2017. Given that these belong to the most majestic trees in European parks and forests, I feel sorrow about their decay. Biologist seem helpless. Hope that somebody can stop this.
The Netherlands are an old and accomplished seafarer Nation, and a great water sports place in general. So, no surprise that even in Tilburg, you find the Dutch version of a Dragonboat Race. Obviously the side shows are not so Asian, but also go along with a lot of fun, happiness and cheering. I went with a group of students from the Master in International Management programme at Tilburg University. This time we were just audience. But I think, next year we should be in the competition.
I am spending a prolonged weekend in Breda, a small town in North Brabant in the Netherlands. The reason is that my Tilburg quarters do not have available space for a few days. So, I followed the kind invitation to a colleague's home in Breda. It is nice little place and extremely lively and very friendly, with a lot of cultural events of different kinds on offer. The one I witnessed most closely was the celebration of the 2017 Red Hair Day, where those with ginger or red hair united on the basis of this commonality. It was a happy event, and a local newspaper reported 40 000 red hair visitors from all over the world are in town. We also went to Zundert, Van Gogh's birth place, to see the Flower Parade. This was a very major event and it was amazing that about a million of flowers had to be mounted per wagon. The weather was and stayed beautiful, which I really appreciated not just for our entertainment, but also for all the hard work which went into preparing these colorful events.
In 2015 I wrote a blog entry on the Dutch Light and the claim by the artist Josef Beuys that the land reclamation at Zuyderzee may be responsible for the vanishing of this phenomenon, which was a source of inspiration for great Dutch painters. I was already two years ago sceptical about this claim's relevance. And this year, upon arrival in the Netherlands, I recalled this discussion. A few months ago, following the recommendation of a Maltese colleague, I read with great interest 陰翳礼讃 (In Praise of Shadows) by the Japanese architect and novelist 谷崎 潤一郎 (Jun'ichirō Tanizaki), in the English translation by Thomas Harper and Edward Seidensticker. One of the aspects Tanizaki discusses in his text, is that the change of available materials has a narrowing impact on haptic experience and perception of colours. Could it be, that nothing changed with the Dutch light, but just our perception followed a narrowing path by a reduced spectrum of light sources and materials to display nuances?
The last three Septembers I have been spending in the Netherlands as a guest lecturer at the University of Tilburg. Last year my start was delayed by a severe Malaria, which I recovered well from, even up to today I am not back to the old level of fitness. This year, I am having a very pleasant start in Tilburg, mainly because the students are smart and engaged. I can see sparkles in their eyes. I also restructured and updated my course completely and I am extremely happy that this seems to fall on fertile ground.
In the Earth Matters exhibition of the Tilburg Textile Museum, I came across an interesting application of Janthinobacter Lividum, and aerobe bacteria, which dark purple colour can be used to dye textiles. Laura Luchtmann and Ilfa Siebenhaar additionally applied sounds at different frequencies to achieve different and very fine patterns. Unfortunately, the photo I took is not clear to show the real colour and its structure. But it's really interesting and very pretty.
I liked all the museum. It is a mix of historical introduction into the textile industry, which was a commercial pillar of Tilburg. But beyond old machinery, it contains a lab with modern looms and brings the visitor to the innovative side of fabrics.
It's Frankfurt am Main. Main is a river, and not a qualifier. It does not mean that this is the "Main Frankfurt" while the other Frankfurt, at the river Oder, is inferior. Sometimes English speakers get confused with that. And then there are many Frankfurts, for example in the United States. But these are not the Frankfurts we talk about, and I don't know anything about them.
But I know Frankfurt am Main, from my time working at Bosch Telecom in Kleyerstrasse. It was the attempt of the Bosch Group to get a foothold in the Telecom Equipment market, at the time telecom services were liberalized in Germany and other European countries. Via various steps, the "TELENORMA - Telephonbau und Normalzeit GmbH" was integrated into the Robert Bosch Group in 1989. It was said to be one of the world's best telecom engineering companies and went back to its foundation as a telegraph manufacturer in 1901. I was working as a management trainee in the early 90s, started in the Security Technology Division and was posted to Paris, where we bought JS Telecom and started a Post-Merger Integration. I personally learned a lot, even though the venture was not very successful. 1999 the public network division was sold to Marcony Company and private networks and devices went to the Private Equity company Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR) for 400 Mio USD, and rebranded TENOVIS. I was already at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) at that time. But I heard that a headcount cut of globally 40 % and having PE managers bragging that they were just released from jail for insider trading charges, did not go down too well. In 2006 the company was sold to AVAYA, and still, on Kleyer Strasse the office buildings are occupied, while the production facilities have, across the road have been converted. The more famous stories of " Fallen Angels" are companies like Kodak, Nokia, Erickson, Voigtländer, Borgward. But Telephonbau and Normalzeit, might also qualify for that category. Or perhaps it is more the Olivetti of telecommunication. This is how I came to Frankfurt am Main the first time. Now I am back. Times have changed, and I am re-entering the city from a different angle.
Frankfurt Bockenheim is a nice and lively place to live. It was Feibai's love for Leipziger Strasse, which made us abandon the further search, and made us convert the short term rental into a longer commitment. It is the University quarter and has a good library, and nice cafés and restaurants. Even though my favorite café is Laumer in Westend. All easy to reach in Frankfurt. First of all the city is flat and the bicycle takes you everywhere conveniently. And secondly, Frankfurt has an excellent and reliable subway. This is another change to 25 years ago: the subway is actually clean and safe. Even the Frankfurt Main train station, is not a drug den anymore, but a well-organized facility, from which you can reach the surrounding countryside easily for a hike in the Taunus or Rheingau, and go further for example along the Middle Rhine Valley, which became UNESCO Cultural World Heritage. The airport, which's expansions have been debated and even the source of violent protests some years ago, is also convenient when it comes to being connected. But of course, in the South of the city and in the major operational landing and take off corridors this causes quite some noise. Not so, in Bockenheim.
There are many ways the wind leaves marks on plants and landscapes. For example, trees bent with the wind, and so do bushes. The more constant and severe the wind is, the more you see it in the floral shape. When the wind comes with rain, you will also notice the pattern of those needing the water growing on the exposed side. And then there are the forms of erosion, deflation, sedimentation, and ripples which let us determine wind directions and speeds. This photo shows a different mark, by a grass scratching in the volcanic sand in Southern Iceland. I also wrote a small travel entry, you may read by clicking here. By this, I resumed the travel section of this website, after a long break. This is where the trips will be found, which fall outside the normal annual migration pattern. It will be less than in the past. But there will be some to follow.
In 1955 the Documenta was launched by Arnold Bode, to show mainly art which was banned during the Nazi regime. Since then, every 5 years, the Documenta is held in Kassel, exhibiting works in multiple venues across the city for 100 days. This time, part of it was held in Athens earlier, and excerpts integrated to enrich the German event. Even this triggered a bit of discussion among the citizens of Kassel, I liked the concept. We unfortunately only had the chance to gain a one-day impression this year (and we did not go to Greece). The overarching themes are fear, violence, refugees, deterioration of civil rights, environmental degradation, and coping with the world's changes and their impact on human lives. I liked quite a few individual works, more for their innovation than for their beauty though. I don't need to be convinced further, that there is far too much tragedy in the world and that we are not doing enough to resolve it. But as so many things appear to go in the wrong these days, this art is much needed, and should be shown and seen more. In terms of curation, I would have needed a bit more guidance. At least labeling all the art works would have been helpful. But never mind. Perhaps I did not prepare myself well enough, or ISO 9000 left a life long mental disability with me, spotting these things even. The Documenta 14 is very worth seeing. It is still on until September 17th. The website is a nice teaser.
I never had a "dream car". Perhaps that's because, I think wheels are very unimpressive. People say, we should not re-invent the wheel. I fully agree with that. What's so good about wheels? When I was in kindergarten, I often thought: "Why do people have legs and not wheels? And why, if wheels are so great, did they not emerge through the process of evolution, as the standard propulsion solution for mammals?" Well, I concluded this thought at the age of 10 by believing that evolution is about survival of the most adaptable and not of the most efficient way. Obviously legs are more versatile than wheels (and if needed you can make use of the efficiency of wheels by using a bicycle). Many years later, when I was working on ways to control air pressure in tires from a central compressor in a car, and concluded as of the complications I had keeping these systems tight around a rotating axis: it would be very hard to get blood into the toes and keep the nerves connected, if we did not have legs, but wheels. I noted this down somewhere in my diary, and turned my attention from cars to rockets and submarines. I even had a poster of the Trieste in my room, hanging over my bed.
This is why it came as no surprise that I was happy like a child today, when on the way back home, I saw the Russian U-Boat Navigator back in the bay of Cospicua. It carries a small yellow submarine, and this is a fascinating machine. I found the specs online, and it goes down to 1000 meters. Imagine, what that means against a NITROX dive, not even reaching 100 meters.
I heard that dream cars, are those where you stand in front and say, "One day, I want one of these", knowing that you will never have one. Well then, one day I want such a yellow submarine.
Kalkara is having a feast. It is the kind of annual celebration most towns and villages in Malta have in turns. It is a joyful one, with music, fireworks, food, wine and laughter. Communities here are local, but welcome all to join in. With the view on the neighboring towns or villages, all feasts tend to be more grand each year. And with respect to increasing altitude fireworks reach, the airport adjusts along the year its operational mode to stay out of the way. These days Malta is struck by some heat waves, pushing the mercury up to 44 degree Celsius. After noon until four all outdoor life gets quiet. Only the ones preparing the fireworks, are working under the boiling sun. The construction sites become very quiet during this season. I tried myself and it is impossible to move more that a few bricks, before longing for some shade. People in Malta are hard working. The reputation of Mediterranean lax does not apply here. Actually, I think it applies really nowhere in the Mediterranean. Not even in Libya. This myth must have been invented by people just coming and watch without feeling the heat themselves. For those who think austerity and discipline are the path to prosperity, yes (!), but just come and try to make a move outdoors when the sun stands high. Sure, there are a lot of things which can improve, no doubt. But working harder, is not one of them.
The Wolfsburg Art Museum exhibits multiple installations by Hans Op De Beek, still on until September 3rd, and very worth visiting (even for me, who is not very much following such art installations normally). I liked the multiple levels of space and time, wondering through while walking along. You may enter through an installation called "The Collector's House" and then continue into the main exhibition hall, descending a staircase. It is rather monochrome and dark down there, and time stands still in a way. I really had no sense, of how long I was walking through the alleys, and there is also no obvious way out. You have to find the hole in the fence.
The Arts Museum in Wolfsburg, has been always reaching far beyond town. I visited the photo exhibition of Pieter Hugo today, titled "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea". Pieter was born in South Africa in 1976 and I found his portraits, family photos and documentary style photography extremely fascinating. I am not sure, whether I am supposed to capture parts of the exhibition with my point and shoot camera from my pocket. But I think, this photographer should receive more attention, so forgive me for the hip shots.
I am staying a few days in Wolfsburg, where there is the headquarter of the Volkswagen Group. And I arrived by train to the car city - fast, comfortable and carbon neutral (which is an option for the ticket). Shaken by the Diesel Emission Scandal, Volkswagen Group and its brands are going through change. But you don't feel much of that in town. Yes, there are "reskilling" and "upskilling" programs for the staff and management. But it will take a while to distil the fuel out of people' blood and make it electrons. But still, given the resources put into making this change and the recent advances made, I am sure Volkswagen will live up to its commitments. Still, as the local newspaper "Wolfsburger Rundschau" reports today, the Diesel Emission Scandal is the largest in post-war German industrial history. At the early stage of it, I published a Business Case at ACRC (Asian Case Research Centre) on it, which is also distributed through Harvard Business School (click here, to download).
My journey is mainly one of joy and meeting friends. Sorry for those, which I did not see this time. It still is always quite busy for me in Wolfsburg. We will have more chances. But I did make a stroll through the Autostadt. Back when I worked in Wolfsburg, I witnessed this theme park and delivery center for cars coming into existence and did myself quite a few projects related to that. The changes I saw though, is that the brand pavilions are much more product oriented than before, and less communicating the brands. I personally regard this as a step back. It might be the result of a rather uninspired CEO, Martin Winterkorn, who ruled the club, while I was stationed in China from 2003 to 2014. I have not visited the Autostadt since then.
I always enjoy strolling through the "Zeithaus", which is a historical car museum, not just dedicated tho Volkswagen, but to the whole history of cars. It has a marvelous collection of iconic cars, and I photographed a lot of the exhibits. If you like you can download all these photography from my fileserver by clicking here. If you are interested in the typology of cars, these photos will be a good reference, and if you like to repost them, please feel free to to so (of course I am happy if you give me credit by linking to this blog post for example).