Not quite the case

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.

From the sketchbook of my mind: The launch of the Santana 3000 in 2005 and the many other things which became the “Shanghai Volkswagen Case”. I really like this one, but of course there is much more to it than ever has been written.

From the sketchbook of my mind: The launch of the Santana 3000 in 2005 and the many other things which became the “Shanghai Volkswagen Case”. I really like this one, but of course there is much more to it than ever has been written.

Sunshine after rain

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.

View from home, when there is sunshine after rain.

View from home, when there is sunshine after rain.

Tizian and the Renaissance in Venice

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.

Frankfurt seen from crossing the “Eiserner Steg” bridge coming from the Museum bank side.

Frankfurt seen from crossing the “Eiserner Steg” bridge coming from the Museum bank side.

Westerwald weekend

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. 

Geese migrating back North from Africa (Westerwälder Seenplatte). Just the sound is already magic.

Geese migrating back North from Africa (Westerwälder Seenplatte). Just the sound is already magic.

The future of work - Fu.Se (Future Series)

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.

One of the breakout venues: the library in the Microsoft Building in Milan.

One of the breakout venues: the library in the Microsoft Building in Milan.

WeWork like "Regus for hipsters"

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.

Chess game available in the common area of WeWork Aviation House, London.

Chess game available in the common area of WeWork Aviation House, London.

Sunday walk: Grosser Feldberg, Taunus

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.

View from Grosser Feldberg into Taunus

View from Grosser Feldberg into Taunus

View from the highest point of Grosser Feldberg into Taunus

View from the highest point of Grosser Feldberg into Taunus

Up here is still snow, even in Frankfurt it feels like a crisp spring day.

Up here is still snow, even in Frankfurt it feels like a crisp spring day.

Memento mori

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.

Capuccini Naval Cemetary, Kalkara (Malta)

Capuccini Naval Cemetary, Kalkara (Malta)

"Wenn wir Glück haben, endet es am Strand"

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 […] ”

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Silkroad at the door step

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.

View on the Malta docks from Senglea

View on the Malta docks from Senglea

New Year Walk

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. 

The long stretch of rocky coast from Kalkara to Marsaskala. 

The long stretch of rocky coast from Kalkara to Marsaskala. 

Coastal watchtower

Coastal watchtower

Sea rolling in on the watchtower

Sea rolling in on the watchtower

Opening not a new chapter, but a new book in 2019

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. 

My new tabular diary does give space for 3 lines per day and 10 years to come. I got mine from Manufactum in Germany.  

My new tabular diary does give space for 3 lines per day and 10 years to come. I got mine from Manufactum in Germany.  

Sad news from the Strasbourg Christmas Market

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.

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Museum Concert in the Old Opera, Frankfurt

The Old Opera House in Frankfurt is one of the landmark buildings. In 1987 the Opera caught fire and it took 3 years and 200 Million EUR to rebuild it from the ashes of what became the largest such disaster since World War II. The fire was set by a homeless who broke into the building through a side window. Frustrated that he did not find food, he gathered some newspapers and burned down the building. Now, what looks old from outside, is just the plain opposite when you enter. It's more modern than the New Opera of town, with excellent seating and acoustics.

Last Monday, I was in the 4.th Museum Concert directed by Tung-Chieh Chuang with the Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester (Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra) and Kian Soltani cello. It was Georges Bizet Symphony in C Major, Camille Saint-Saëns Cello concerto Nr. 1 in a minor op. 33 and after the break Igor Strawinsky Petruschka (in the 1947 edition). It was nice and I really enjoyed the evening. Such concerts are more "meditative" than opera and a good start into the week.

Snapshot of the interior of the Old Opera House Frankfurt, taken during the break of the 4th Museum Concert.

Snapshot of the interior of the Old Opera House Frankfurt, taken during the break of the 4th Museum Concert.

Asshole Management

Asshole Management is an art form by which subjects are neutralized effectively, while resources employed in this process are kept minimal. Here “a person counts as an asshole when, and only when, he systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people” (James, Aaron. Assholes: A Theory (pp. 4-5). Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Kindle Edition).

From this, we can already conclude that assholes cannot be ignored, because then they expand. They further cannot be educated, as they do not follow logic or moral arguments. Should an asshole recognize you as somebody who can provide any kind of advantages to him, you can also not walk away, as the asshole will follow. Assholes need to be dealt with.

There are a few ways to deal with them effectively. Counterintuitively, it needs to encourage them to become even bigger assholes. You can achieve that, by giving them the sense that they are actually entitled to even more. Then let him engage with a second asshole, who objects to that entitlement. We call this, the anti-asshole. If managed well, the two assholes will engage in a personal war. The energy released in such asshole-anti-asshole reaction may be quite high so that it is recommended to contain it in a confined physical and social space. In the end, it is a process of asshole fusion and is better kept in a safe reactor. Make sure all resources assholes need, are available in the reactor. But the reaction should also not be too efficient, because we need both of them to melt down in the process. Residual assholes, which did not burn down completely, will have to be treated as toxic waste.

If you run short of anti-assholes in your environment, there is a second strategy: catalyze the asshole’s energy towards self-destruction. Again this needs encouragement and making the asshole believe, he is capable to perform things which he truly is not. An asshole which really believes he is above the law, biology, and physics is a quite vulnerable creature. The asshole will self accelerate fueled by arrogance, greed, adrenalin, and testosterone. But if it bounces randomly against close obstacles, it may not reach fatal speed. It needs undisturbed egocentricity to maximize the speed before a clearly defined impact. You need to pave the runway to hell. Again, the energy released when assholes hit the target zone, may be quite high and should be evacuated.

There are different kinds of assholes, which need slightly adjusted management. But there is one asshole sub-species, which is extremely hard to deal with. It’s the “victim asshole” (VA), which pretends to be disadvantaged to achieve advantages. The first problem here is, to discriminate between people who really need our help and VAs. I have been thinking about VA quick tests, but none of them had significant results. More research is needed here.

Short Malta stopover

It was only a short week in Malta and I was lucky that I could catch up with some friends. Though I regret that I could not see everybody I wanted. It was just a short stopover and there is more time "on the rock" to come. Ample rain of the last weeks, turned the open lands of the little mediterranen country into a green and lush scenery. Again my personal autumn was prolonged for another week by this trip. When I arrive in Germany in a few hours, it will be winter-ish. For those, I missed this time, see you in December and keep well until then. 

My favorite "secret garden" in Zab bar. I recorded some videos of it from my drone and will cut it when I am back to my laptop.

My favorite "secret garden" in Zab bar. I recorded some videos of it from my drone and will cut it when I am back to my laptop.

Creativity is also overrated

The term "creativity" seems to be used like what we call "innovation". It's more about churning out new products and creating markets than working on substantial breakthroughs. And that's understandable, when you consider the economic pressures most artists are under. I am thinking a lot about crossfertilization between arts, science and engineering. But it would have to be on a more fundamental level to be fruitful. 

Yesterday's venue of the "Malta Creative Collective" (MCC) was the old Citylight Cinema in Valletta. It was a really beautiful discovery for me. Here, I was told, they already played silent movies in the 1930s.

Yesterday's venue of the "Malta Creative Collective" (MCC) was the old Citylight Cinema in Valletta. It was a really beautiful discovery for me. Here, I was told, they already played silent movies in the 1930s.

Commuting to Valletta through the Grand Harbour. 

Commuting to Valletta through the Grand Harbour. 

Tainted skin

Once you have a phobia in your mind, it's really hard to get over it. Recently, I returned my food in a restaurant, because the waiter was tattooed. I just could not eat it anymore. Then last weekend in Munich, a tattooed guest entered the hotel's breakfast room, which made me feel so noxious, that I turned away - just to see another one who had human corps parts, like skulls and bones, impregnated on his arms. I know, I have to overcome this one day, but eating and tattoos just don't work together for me. Don't get me wrong, people can of course decorate their bodies as they wish. It's up to me finding a way, not to feel disturbed by it anymore. 

Somehow, in my mind it has solidified that non-tribal tattoos are related to gang membership, prostitution, drugs and inmates. In the best case, they maybe English servicemen or other kinds of hooligans. That's why I understand, that in Japan non concealed tattoos are banned in many public baths and gyms. People are just scared of them, and definitely don't want to share the water with somebody who they think maybe infected with all kinds of bugs. It's perceived as dangerous, dirty and filthy.

Even I catch myself, that if I spot a person with a tattoo, I may watch every move more carefully, like it would be a roaming Pitbull Terrier on a children's playground. It's just hard wired by now.  Of course, not all Pitbulls are vicious, and neither are all tattooed people. It's nonsense, I know. I am also not a wussy, as I have worked with people suffering leprosy and others terribly disfigured and sick. We even shared the canteen and it made me no trouble at all. Perhaps it's the environment which makes the difference. I heard that you can overcome phobias by confronting them. Should I go to a tattoo shop one day and try and eat something in there?  For sure, if I manage that, I can overcome anything. 

Little Malta

I had some maintenance and admin work to do and then strolled over to the other side of the Grand Harbour to meet friends. The sky cleared up over night accompanied by strong winds and brought forward its full Mediterranean. Very nice sitting outside at mild 26 Celsius.

Fountain in the Upper Barakka Gardens, Valletta

Fountain in the Upper Barakka Gardens, Valletta

View to Fort Ricasoli

View to Fort Ricasoli

How to stop time

The question is common: how in childhood 6 weeks summer holidays are feeling like they last eternity, while for an adult the same feel like it's gone in no time? There are a few contemporary non fiction books on the subject, which are not really worth mentioning. Then there is a novel by Matt Haig with the title, which I enjoyed reading. I found it entertaining, looking at life and lives from the perspective of somebody who suffers he anomaly of living for centuries. Even the concept is not new, and reaches from Greek Mythology through the Ghost of Centerville, the Flying Dutchman into modernity, I found this book telling another nice story. And it may even help a bit to answer we the question in poses in he title.

When I started thinking about the question casually, a few years ago, I was wondering why the ratio of some change divided by time "consumed", also referred to as "speed",  became an equivalent for performance. Even some common measures of intelligence are using the ability of solving mental tasks in a given short time frame. Obviously, his is good for some purposes and completely useless for others. But then you find, that people with high IQ sometimes also tend to have high creative abilities. Well, obviously it is an advantage, when you can do both: thinking fast and slow. And yes, for those who did no do it yet, let me say that Daniel Kahneman's book, should go on the reading list. I assume, a high common IQ is good to to process stuff, which otherwise clogs up valuable brainpower for higher tasks. 

Speed is exciting, but lacks dignity and elegance, when things become hectic. Try to stand in the Hong Kong subway during rush hour, watching the commuters and not to think of ants or lemmings. Hectic is like switching from laminar to turbulent friction. A landing plane produces turbulence on purpose to reduce kinetic energy and slow down. Beyond hectic comes only panic. And beyond panic comes disaster. 

Back to the point how to stop time, or at least slow it down. I tried for a while, not to carry a watch and not to have a calendar. In a world where you have to use time as a dimension of coordination with others, that's very unpractical and sooner or later something goes seriously wrong. So, that did not work. Then the solution came to me during this summer, which lasted "forever"  (not just as an effect of global warming). It was a combination of absolute focus on enjoyable tasks and topics, together with taking up more (not less) responsibilities and doing is all very seriously. When I spent six weeks in Hong Kong, I was also reminded how important the environment is. Hong Kong is a hectic and noisy place with frightened and nervous people. After about a month I could not help, this started to have an effect on me, making me inefficient and tired. I have not looked into the slow city and slow food movement. But I am convinced that there are more conducive environments than others. Still, slowness itself can be also quite disturbing and does not really help slowing down the passing of time. There are things which have to be fast. It's all about staying in laminar flow, I guess.  

Back in Malta, I sorted my notebooks and diaries. They cover notes from when I was twelve years old. I decided not to switch electronic on this subject (except for mere coordination). It is very nice to flip the pages. 

Back in Malta, I sorted my notebooks and diaries. They cover notes from when I was twelve years old. I decided not to switch electronic on this subject (except for mere coordination). It is very nice to flip the pages.