Monthly Archives: July 2006

Quick fix for dozy companies

Rick Segal on how slumbering incumbents can confront today’s realities:

Personally, if I were running a company with established products, established market share, sales guys making good commissions, IT departments with volumes of policies and processes, I would immediately do the following:

1. Find the nearest University Computer Science Professor.

2. Have him/her round up some bright, promising students.

3. Bring students into your company and have your marketing person spend a day explaining what your company does, sells, offers, etc.

4. Offer the student that codes up/presents the best new way to do whatever you are doing a full scholarship and a job.

I think you get my point.

The split second you get any traction, any success at all? Look over shoulder, they’re coming. You are already ‘the old way to do it.’

More on GM

Further to my post referencing the weight of health costs, comes Tom Peters decrying the straitjacket of bigness for GM and many others: “Size can surely help you muscle your way into many a market; but INEVITABLY it will choke you to death, or at least deliver growing IRRELEVANCE.”

Mr Martin

It’s been wonderful seeing the people I grew up with after so many years. The clichés about the years melting away are partly true. Some people who I had not seen for 36 years, at a guess, were instantly familiar.

The highlight, however, was the appearance at an evening gathering of my elementary school of our sixth-grade teacher, Marvin Martin. Even though we were all either 50-years old or on the cusp of 50, none of us could bring ourselves to call him anything other than Mr Martin.

As I told him, I was fortunate in my life to have perhaps three or four teachers who were truly transformational. Mr Martin was unquestionably one of those. As the only male teacher at South School he already had a special stature, but he augmented it in so many ways. His classroom was lined with models of rockets and spacecraft. I remember celebrating Sputnik’s 10th birthday in his classroom, with a birthday cake and all the trappings.

But he was most famous for annually writing, directing and producing the sixth grade play. My year the play was Peter Pan. There were two casts, but I can still remember that Tommy Ullman played Captain Hook, Randy Robinson was Peter Pan and I was the Indian Chief (not a big part). Everyone last night could remember their role.

There were perhaps 25 of us from that sixth grade last night, roughly half the class, which is remarkable enough after nearly 40 years. But what was a particular testament to Mr Martin is that each of us could so vividly recall what we did in his class (including his occasionally volcanic eruptions of temper).

Among the clichés of reunions, claiming old teachers as unsung heroes stands high. But Mr Martin is one of those astounding, largely unrecognized people who had a profound influence on almost all of his students.

Playing in the fountain

Crown Fountain

Although I consider myself a native Chicagoan, it’s been a good few years since I visited the city. So today was my first chance to go to Millennium Park, mayor Daley’s intended legacy to the city.

The Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion is thrilling and I (unlike my sister) thought Anish Kapoor’s Cloudscape enjoyably reflected and distorted both the many visitors around it and Chicago’s non pareil skyline. But the best part of the park, I thought, was the Crown Fountain, designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.

Two large towers show people’s faces, with expressions that change slowly: eyes closed, then mouth open, then lips puckered. But the delightful part is that at an unexpected moment, a huge jet of water shoots out of the mouth. In the hot, sticky weather of a Chicago summer (like today), children jostle for position to be under the cooling torrent. When the mouth jet finishes, the children hurry to stand right next to the tower because a waterfall erupts from the top.

Apparently, the people who planned the park have been startled by the popularity of the fountain. Anyone with kids could have told them that it was a guaranteed hit. I know that if my boys come to Chicago in the summer, they will happily play for a few hours in the Crown Fountain.

Heading for nostalgia

I’ve been unusually lax in writing on Davos Newbies recently. It’s not the summer doldrums.

In fact, I’m busier than I have been in ages with work. That’s all to the good. But tomorrow I’m taking a couple of days off to go to my hometown, Chicago, for my junior high‘s 36th reunion. Thirty-six doesn’t have any particular significance, but the endlessly energetic classmate that has organized the event only got around to it this year.

Three years ago I went to the 25th reunion of my Princeton graduating class and had a thoroughly interesting, enjoyable time. But I’m far more eager to see my Glencoe friends, many of whom I’ve known since we were five- or six-years old. And virtually all of whom I haven’t seen in at least 32 years.

The Wikipedia bureaucracy

I find Wikipedia tremendously useful, but I read it with my critical antennae tingling. Still, I like the healthy corrective Nicholas Carr provides to Wikipediaphilia: “Wikipedia is beginning to look something like a post-revolutionary Bolshevik Soviet, with an inscrutable central power structure wielding control over a legion of workers.”

Incidentally, you can follow an amusing World Cup minor Wikipedia tempest by looking at the edits on Arjen Robben’s page (which has been locked from further editing because of persistent vandalism). Robben seemed to take every opportunity he could to dive while his Netherlands team remained in the tournament. So a clever Guardian journalist added the following to the section on his personal life: “Robben is quite adept at chess and an accomplished SCUBA diver. He owns a pet parrot named Greg Louganis and collects model submarines.” The Robben nonsense shows both why some bureaucracy is probably needed and also why you need to maintain your critical faculties while reading Wikipedia (just as you should when reading Encyclopedia Britannica, by the way).

Surreal movie viewing

The pool at the Claremont

My family and I had a slightly surreal experience last night. After an evening swim, we wrapped up in blankets and sat on loungers under the stars to watch Mrs Doubtfire by the swimming pool at the Claremont. About halfway through the film, Robin Williams and cast walk into a swanky swimming club that just happens to be the Claremont. Very odd sensation.