Back in the days, when I became who I became, life was simple: fast cars, pretty girls, planes, guns, hunting, crossing deserts, climbing mountains and dreaming of adventure. There was a lax oversight, no significant speed limits, and the forest was deep; while the police were far. "Talent" was not a sickness back then. If we had it, we were encouraged to make the best out of it. No doctors drugged us to stay calm. That's why youth was a roller coaster of unbelievable happiness and tears. And role models, who were they? Jaque Ives Cousteau, T.E. Lawrence of Arabia, Manfred von Richthofen, Vasco da Gama, Richard Feynman, Alexander von Humboldt ... an endless list of characters. Two of them were Nikki Lauda and of course the unforgotten James Hunt. I often came in touch with the Nikki Lauda spirit during my time working for the Volkswagen Group in the Wolfsburg Headquarter. Yesterday, he peacefully passed away, aged 70, after reportedly having struggled with health issues since his nearly fatal accident in 1976, from which he reappeared on the race track after only 42 days recovery. There is of course much more to say about Nikki Lauda, but I will leave this to the people who really can. In memoriam, I took two hours out from reading papers today and watched the movie based on the rivaly between him and James Hunt - back when men were still real men and women were still real women.
Touched down in Malta twice today, as the first landing was aborted. All went safely, but a good reminder that it always is necessary to close safety belts tightly and stow away things that can fly around in such a procedure, or others.
I had the pleasure to invite a group of 30 MBA students from the University of Hong Kong over for a comparative field trip Germany and France. We visited companies and institutions like Hessischer Rundfunk, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, the Multi-Generation House of the Gebrüder Schmid Foundation, EUROCORPS, the E.A.S.E training factory, an institution of the European Parliament, a Vinyard, BASF, HPP Consulting and the German Central Bank. We had excellent speakers and guides in all these venues and everybody, including me, learned a lot. On weekends and public holidays we strolled through cultural and historic places, and shopped down the Middle Rhine Gorge diving into medieval history. The weather was extremely changeable, but we were resilient to the showers and treated ourselves with great food choices. Now I am looking forward to read reflections and project reports due on May 19th. I am really eager to learn different perspectives and thoughts on my home region.
Yesterday I picked Malva to make tea. Tastes nice and the color is yellowish at first. Then I added some lemon to make it more refreshing and surprise: it immediately turned pinkish, more resembling the malva flowers. I repeated it on a white kitchen towel, and see the difference below. I tried to grasp the kitchen chemistry behind it by strolling through Wikipedia while drinking the tea, but remained unsuccessful. Does anybody know what happens here and why the color changes? Is it any drop of pH (I can try that tomorrow) or is it something else in the lemon?
About from an annual GDP growth rate of 5% people appear to become wasteful. I have seen it in East Germany after the 1989 reunification, when people were running to Aldi to buy fruits, while tons were rotting on the trees. I have also seen it in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, now Malta. I came back from a walk with a few branches of Malva to make some tea at home. On the way I met a neighbor, let's call him George. He became excited when he saw my Malva branches and told me, that when he was a child, they ate the flowers with honey. "Do you want some, George?", I asked him. No thanks, I got some Coke in the fridge.Read More
It was a pleasure to follow the invitation to give a guest lecture at the School of International Studies (ZIS) at the Technical University Dresden. It is the 4th year I received the honor to speak on different topics, taking the perspective of a practitioner in a school which has a far broader scope than this. This time it was on Opportunities and Risks along China‘s One Belt One Road Initiative. Again, I specially enjoy the discussions with the excellent students there and last but not least the friendly atmosphere in the faculty. At first sight, the small red brick building hosting the ZIS does not let you anticipate what a great reach this interdisciplinary center at the TU Dresden has. I had the pleasure to flip though a folder of alumni, and the little place is actually like the spider in the web of a global network reaching into institutions like the World Bank, OECD, Central Banks, major corporations and German and international diplomacy and even NATO. I am not surprised, knowing the students and the quality of teaching they receive.
Hamburg greeted me with extremely nasty weather. Still, I walked around a lot and was introduced by a friend to the new development of the "Hafenstadt". It is quite a colossal development and, given I dislike retro-design, I always find it difficult to match the new and the "old" of the Speicherstadt. Given the weather, I opted to visit the museums and my favorite is always the maritime exhibition, which brings me back to the time of my university studies and own travel. I guess that's what always happens when you love the subjects you studied: each visit you dig some level deeper. And then I found in the Arts Hall (Kunsthalle), another painting in parallel to Vermeer's Geographer. It's Corlenis de Man's "Geographers at work". I still favor the Vermeer though. Unfortunately, the photo exhibitions at the Deichtorhalle was just under construction for the next exhibition. After three sustained days of rain, I took the train back to Frankfurt. But I enjoyed being in the north. I even went “shopping” at my one and only clothing store, which is Ernst Brendler and got a woolen Troyer. I really needed it.
Over the years I was the subject of a few business cases, and also found it useful to build up an own stock of such cases for my teaching in postgraduate business programmes and Executive Education. The case method goes back to the law school of Harvard University where it was introduced in the 1870s. The approach to derive common principles from cases in a system where case law in place, appears reasonable. In 1920 the Harvard Business School introduced cases as a method to train management students. Normally, to “crack it” the students have to put themselves into the shoes of a business leader and derive a suggestion for action, using the information given in the text and also applying a framework or “theory”.
Especially, in cases where I was the subject myself, like in “Shanghai Volkswagen: Time for a radical shift or gears” (2005) it strikes me how oversimplified the students propose their suggestions. Sometimes, when I google on the web, I find sample solutions and interpretations which really make me laugh. For example one was praising my strategic foresight of a decisions, while in reality it was 3 in the morning in a meeting room and I wanted to get my team to get some sleep before the board meeting on the same day.
Also, the in cases, which I published myself with colleague I can well imagine what really went on in the manager’s mind and this had far more dimensions than we can state in this format. And I can imagine, most other case have the same issue, specially those written by pure academics who never actually decided anything of substance. There is normally more than one solution, the situation is more complex than stated in the case and the information is given, is not sufficient to come up with a real proposal which would work outside the textbook.
There was some critique to the case method, that there should be more of a philosophical undercurrent included in decision making, for example by Donham and Whitehead in Business Adrift. Also, in 2016 a paper by Todd Bridgman, Stephen Cummings, and Colm McLaughlin is "Restating the Case: How Revisiting the Development of the Case Method Can Help Us Think Differently About the Future of the Business School". And of course Minzberg commented critical and others. Still the Harvard style machine kept running.
I use cases only for introductory purposes and to have some “lab environment” of an isolated problem. That’s useful, but not sufficient. After that, I immediately switch to real-life examples, where finding and analyzing information available and useful is part of the assignment. I was never a big supporter of frameworks anyway and I honestly have never seen any complex problem, which can be solved by for example by a blabla-Matrix. It may help to structure initial thoughts or communicate with people who have been trained in the same jargon. But it’s unlikely to deliver an intelligent and holistic solution.
I find business problems extremely interesting to solve. But cocking by the book does not appear to me being the golden bullet, specially when you look at the books the management profession has. I fully agree that learning by doing and dealing with real-life problems is a good element in business education. But is that really what we are doing with these cases? It looks pretty 1920s type of analysis to me. And “doing”? What do you mean? A presentation is not the kind of “doing” I normally experience.
Anyway, now I have to think about a teaching note for a new case which will be published soon. They always come as a package. I am always a bit puzzled when Professors need teaching notes. But they come as a package. It’s a bit like you need a recipe to make a pizza. Hope they grow quickly into cooking gourmet meals. Don’t slide into hot dog. Enjoy.
There was a teriffic storm in Malta. My plan to enjoy an earlier start of spring there, than in Germany, did not succeed. There were even biblical scenes of fish bashed out of the sea onto the roads. Some of the offshore fish farms broke open in the wild sea. Back in Germany, I spent most time in the National Library in Frankfurt and stroll through the museums from time to time, when I need a break. I closed my Facebook account, as it became too repetitive and actually a bit boring. Those missing me there, can follow here on my website, which I will revive a little in the months to come. I kept the Instagram account though, and if you visit this website from a PC browser you can see this “snaps” in the right hand column.
Just back from Milan and visiting the Pinacotheca di Brera, I ran into Tizian again in the exhibition of “Tizian und Renaissance in Venedig” (Tizian and the Renaissance in Venice) in the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. Then went over to the Schirn Kunsthalle to see the sculptures of Gironcoli exhibited there in a single room. At least it let me put Murphy by Samuel Beckett put on my reading list, which was taken reference to.
Even in the mornings the grass still has its white iceing, spring is around the corner. It was a short winter after an endless summer of 2018, and it feels like only now the new year has really started. It is time to get out in the forest and this weekend I went back to my home turf, the Westerwald. It is a region, said to have chilling winds, but that every little sunshine pierces the heart. So, what can be a better place to go for greeting the first mild and sunny days? I also visited the Archeological Institute and Museum at Monrepos. Back being a student a student, I was involved in Paleolithic excavations with a research group around Gerhard Bosinki. This was the cradle of this museum and I was extremely happy to see, it is in such good shape and very active.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Adecco Group, together with a wide list of sponsors, has produced an interesting format to discuss the future of work in the view of AI (Artificial Intelligence). It is coined Future Series (Fu.Se). This is not exactly my field, but as I am watching some aspects of it for the future of the the construction supply industry at B+L GmbH, I followed the kind invitation to the kick off in Milan on February 13-14. I never go to conferences, but as this was introduced to me as an action oriented “anti-conference” I got interested. I specially enjoyed the podium discussion between Guy Ryder, the Director General of the Internation Labour Organization (ILO), and Alain Dehaze, the CEO of the Adecco Group, on the need to renew the “social contract” in the new context. Alain also was in the Global Commission for the Future of Work, which published a report I found very comprehensive and insightful (click here to download). All over it was a colorful mix of industry leaders, public institutions, advisors and researchers, which made the breakout sessions extremly interesting. With Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft, using an analogy how long it took from the invention of the automobile to the time it shaped the streets, he convinced not just the car parts of my brain (which are many) that AI’s take off point is about to come changing work life extremely significant. I also enjoyed hearing about the research on the “gig economy” by Judith Wallenstein from BCG, which she conducted as the European Head of the Henderson Institute - the think tank of the consultancy. Just a day later, I received the compilation of results and action items of all parallel break out groups. The only remaining question now is not what to do, but how to do it and when? I am looking forward to that.
Had a short trip to London for meetings and the chance of catching up with friends, visit Tate Modern and the photography center in VA. People were busy: some just coming back from Davos and others under the impression of the hilarous Brexit discussions in the UK’s House of Commons. We were looking for an easy way to host a meeting on the construction industry ourlook and tried out the WeWork co-working space in the Aviation House. It’s like “Regus for hipsters” a friend said. I was suprised that, according to the receptionist, about 2700 people are working there. The common spaces were rather noisy, and I would not be able to do concentrated work there. But most are of course in private offices or on hot desks. They advertise the possibility of “networking”. I would not know how to do that, why and with whom. So, it was not really a selling point for me. It was lifely. Some were playing ping pong, others relaxed at the soccer table. From 4:00 p.m. you get free flow beer. It must be hard work, spending the money of business angels. Nobody touched the chess game on the table. But I was happy to see it was available.
“There is a Barista here from 8:00 a.m”, they told us. This confused me, because I did not listen carefully and thought: “If they need a ‘barrister’ already in the morning, they must be in trouble.” But now I know that a ‘barista’ is not a lawyer, but the one operating the coffee machine. English is not my first language. They also said, they have ‘superfast internet’. But this must have been another misunderstanding, because they showed it using a WLAN connection. They called it ‘Wifi’. So, I assumed ‘Wifi’ is for WLAN, what ‘barista’ is for the one making coffee. How ‘superfast’ can that be? On data security standards, there was no information available. On the toilets there was mouth wash, but no towls.
I may sound a bit cynical, but honestly I kind of liked WeWork. The meeting room was good and easy to book. Some people were using it to teach courses, like ‘web design’ (the ‘barista’ of making a website). And for that, I found it perfect. I would not host a very serious meeting there though, where anything is confidential, because all is glass and transparent. Also, at the reception people have to sign in with a photo on an iPad, which I found rather strange - but understandable from their side. There was no information on what the photo is for and when it will be deleted. So, I was a bit shy about it and I could understand, if this puts off people entering the premises. Perhaps take some dark sunglasses for the check in procedure. Being called ‘guys’ at receptions, maybe a thing we have to get used to. Even the airport security called me ‘guy’, later that day. It must be just one of these anglo-saxon things like baseball caps. I am getting over it.
Having a Sunday long walk is a nice habit, such as having a short walk after lunch. From Frankfurt, you can get with a short 20 minute drive into Taunus. Alternatively there is a frequent train connection and even a tramway, both bringing you to good starting points to begin a walk or even a hike. My favorite stopover for lunch or coffee is Anita’s Fuchstanz, a hut serving rustique but excellent food and cakes.
Cemetraries are some of my favorite “hangouts”. They provide solitude, good perspective on many aspects of life, memories, tell stories and also say a lot about the local culture by how people treat their ancestors. Military graveyards additionally remind us of the nonsense and horrors of war. There is many of all this on the Capuccini Naval Cemetary. But what is special for me, is that here lies Henry Ernst Wild who survived the Shackleton expedition and then died of typhoid in Malta.
Today is my 53th birthday and I spend it on sunny Malta. In the morning, I went running at the sea and stopped at my favorite cliff at Fort Ricasoli. Living at the sea, is nice. Yesterday, after a horse ride along the northern rocky coast and dinner in a hut at Golden Bay, I was introduced to a German poem by Bernd Begemann called “Wenn wir Glück haben, endet es am Strand” (If we are lucky, it ends on the beach). It was inspired by watching an old and nearly anachronistcally elegant Maltese couple which came to enjoy another day’s ending here quietly together.
“ […] Wenn Wir Glück haben
endet es am Strand
du hältst meine Hand
und wir sitzen dort im Sand
auf unseren Campingstühlen
mit einem guten Gefühl
das die Zeit überstand
wenn wir Glück haben
sind wir zusammen […] ”
Malta's night temperatures drop to 6°C currently. Even I caught a cold, which does not happen often. All are hugging their water kettles and drink tea. You may laugh, Malta is made for summer. Though I do like the winter here. It's more quiet. Today while going for a walk I noticed a Chinese ship calling in the docks for maintenance. The Chinese New Silk Road is closer than you may think.
Like every year, also 2019 started with a long walk. This time it was from Kalkara to Marsaskala, along the rocky coast and back; a bit more than 20 kilimeters. As of the strong wind from the New Year's night, the sea was rolling on the roks with high swell and in its typical turquoise color for sunny days in Malta. There is no better way than starting a new year like this.
By design tabular diaries bring you back to what happened on that day of the years before, starting from the second year and for up to a decade. Every day of the year has one page, in a column for 10 years. That's an advantage and is an interesting writing and reading experience while you keep track of your days passing. A disadvantage is, that they don't give you much space per day. But that's fine for me, because I normally live by an efficient structure, which does not need repetition in a diary in detail. Another disadvantage appears in the case you don't want to be reminded of something. That's why I prematurely closed my previous one already after 6 years and put it away in my treasure box. For 2019, I don't just stay a new year like a new chapter, but open a whole new book to fill until 2028. What kind of story will that be? I'll make sure, it won't get boring.
I am sadened to hear the reports on yesterday's terrorist attack on the Christmas Market in Strasbourg which left 3 dead and 12 injured. I was there myself on Saturday, like all others enjoying the beautiful city, the market and the peaceful Christmas time. On entrance to the city center, bags were checked on the bridges. But to my surprise, we could just go in by tramway without being checked at all. I even made a bad joke on the "Frenchness" of the security concept. Now I regret, that I only made a joke and did not act on this by reporting it to the officer in charge to close such a loophole. I hope those hurt, of which 8 are in a critical condition, recover soon and get well again, and those who lost their lives, rest in peace.