Posts filed under ‘Blogging’
Less than two weeks into an important milestone for the airport’s operational readiness and less than three weeks from my marketing and business environment exam, I find myself blogging from el Liceu, Barcelona’s opera house. Amidst this quagmire that my daily job has been turning into, I still could scape to enjoy Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. It really sounds strange in English instead of Italian’s: Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata.
Yes, the second name for the opera is “the day of madness”. That’s how I live my days at work now. Trying to cope with unmatching requirements, trying to sync reality with political requirements. But, as I like to say, reality is too stubborn for that. And we always end up crashing with a concrete wall which we could have avoided. But that’s second nature to us, humans. Why is it that reality ends up resembling just another opera buffa?
Yet here I am. Everyone needs a place to hide. And that’s mine today. I even could open my computer in the bar in the basement, use my HSDPA connection and write this lines while sipping a coffee. Watch the old ladies ingest huge quantities of sugar and chocolate in different shapes and colours. Isn’t life nice after all?
The thing is that when I began the MBA I promised to reflect. And these latter days have been so amazing. So many different things happening from a global perspective, at work and even a personal perspective. And I don’t want to feel that the many things that flow around me just do that: flow. I need to capture some of them. I need to retain, absorb, think, grow.
They say that experience is everything, that you actually learn by doing. And that is a blatant lie. Well, you learn, true, but only in a mechanical way. As Figaro doesn’t actually learn about Almaviva until he actually sees him fishing in his waters, or Almaviva doesn’t learn about behaving until his infidelity is publicly exposed. The aristocracy depicted, ridiculised here didn’t learn on time to change. Until it was too late. Pierre Beaumarchais saw his play censored in France, only to be played in 1778, with the French Revolution almost at the doors…
You learn when you think about what you live. When you think of improving what you’ve already learnt to do mechanically. When you make it grow inside of you. When you go one step further to accepting what is already established, what is already known. When you apply something more than common sense. When you’re not scared of rethinking something that is already working (apparently).
When I give project management classes, I always stress how important is the “post-mortem” analysis at the end of the project to clarify not only what we have done well but also what we could have done better and what we have learnt from the experience. Now I feel that the end is too far, too late. It must be done now and again, in a continuous process of taking a step back, getting perspective, digesting, and then going in again with regained strengths that will not hold us back from stepping out of the comfort zone. Every manager should take some time to learn now and then.
And now, let’s enjoy this opera
As the average reader of this blog knows, and wordpress knows such individuals exist to my amazement (THANK-YOU), I do several things in my job, one of them is the integration of the baggagge system in the Terminal South (or Terminal D) in Barcelona’s airport.
Well, it used to be one of them… but it has been growing and growing, absorbing my time and effort, sometimes with complex things, of course, but very often with little and silly things, sometimes simply to overcome the lack of communications between parts in a huge project, sometimes just repeating the same things again and again.
Organisations prepare themselves to manage projects. They start shyly with one and, if they are able to envisage an strategy, they include project management into their capabilities. There are models to describe how project management competencies are integrated into organisational capabilities. Different organisations are at different levels, and thus are able not only to manage projects but also to increasingly learn from them.
But, at the end of the day, panic happens. That’s when they forget everything and start to triple-check everything based on the gut feelings of people, high enough in the ladder, that don’t really know about the systems to be implemented. Trivial things get inflated and strategic things suddenly obviated.
That’s what has happened to me with the Terminal 5 syndrome (to know more about Heathrow’s Terminal 5 click here). It will take some time to settle. In the meantime some issues have been enshrined as the most relevant by the organisation and are draining a lot of resources. Yes, organisations are able to learn a lot about project management but, when panic starts, they sort of regress to a previous state, top level managers want to micromanage what they still don’t know anything about, and reality gets distorted to adapt to the top management expectations.
A hard critique? Fortunately the tide is just a tide and we will be able to focus the existing energies on the real issues… having top management’s attention is very helpful as long you can manage it in the right direction, and to help you instead of interfering.
I was interviewed for the Independent by Andy Sharman and he wrote this interesting article, here you have an excerpt
Facebook or LinkedIn?
Most business schools have their own network, in the form of a virtual learning environment. These have “blackboard” functions, which allow course materials to be posted online. But Facebook and MBAs should be a match made in heaven. One of the main reasons MBA students do MBAs is to network, and what could be easier than collecting your contacts on a site such as Facebook and LinkedIn? Still, staff seem divided as to whether Facebook – a site developed for college friends to keep in touch, and post party pictures – has any real relevance in business. Most educators agree that, though LinkedIn is a relatively safe forum, the Facebook phenomenon throws up as many obstacles as it does opportunities.
“This is a big challenge for universities and business schools in general,” says Dr Gareth Griffiths, MBA Director at Aston Business School. “We’re all looking to exploit it to the best of our advantages.” One of theways in which social networking sites can be used by business schools is to keep track of alumni. Aston has an alumni network on LinkedIn – “just because LinkedIn seems to offer more of a professional forum,” says Griffiths. This enables former MBA students to keep in touch, discuss work matters and maintain the base of contacts they built up whilst studying. Griffiths says the network can also be useful for current, and even prospective, MBAs. Former students can be called upon for assistance on student projects, case studies and future employment opportunities. They can even assist with recruitment. “If we have a prospective student in, say, Saudi Arabia, and we know an alumnus is in Saudi, we would put them together on LinkedIn,” he says. The prospective student can then ask about the alum’s experiences at Aston: “questions they perhaps wouldn’t ask us,” adds Griffiths. Social networking sites can be particularly useful for distance learners, who have previously struggled to recreate the networking possibilities on campus.
“You really need these tools for a distance learning MBA to work effectively,” says Gabriel Mesquida, 35, from Barcelona, who is studying for an MBA by distance learning at Henley Management College. Some tutors, like Dr Caroline Wiertz at Cass Business School use Facebook as an easy way of getting in touch with students. She uses the site to give instant feedback to dissertation with students, and also uses Skype for video-conferencing with MBAs. She says she has experimented with the Courses on Facebook application that allows the tutor and students to set up private study groups, upload and share files and create class discussions. But she is not convinced that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. “The question is really, where do you draw the line between privacy and your social life and our school?” she says.
“Do students want their teachers to be on Facebook or do they want it to be their own personal space. It’s a very difficult trade off to make.” LinkedIn seems to be the option that most tutors prefer. “You almost can’t afford not to be on LinkedIn,” says Wiertz. Chris Dalton, director of studies for the distance learning MBA at Henley, praises LinkedIn for the fact that it’s retained its insularity. “It remains dedicated to one thing,” he says, “an opt-in, career-building network service.” He says that LinkedIn is particularly good because you’re entering professional data about yourself, rather than personal data.
But for others, like Professor Peter Kawalek of Manchester Business School, Facebook has the advantage of personality. “As human beings, we want to know who we’re talking to,” says Kawalek. “The way Facebook is structured is more akin to a watercooler culture at work. It’s more than just a formal presentation of a CV.” Kawalek’s students on the Executive MBA in management information systems put together multimedia reports, increasingly using photos and video. These kinds of resources can be easily shared on Facebook, and Kawalek encourages students to contribute also to the course group blog. And it seems that it is blogging which represents the best Web 2.0 forum for business schools. Mesquida blogs feverishly, which has led many others on the course to contact him, whilst encouraging him to consolidate his learning. “When you’re quite busy you tend to focus a lot on information and data and you don’t have time to reflect,” he says. “With the blog, the idea is to take some perspective of what has happened to you in the day and apply something you have read and make some new ideas and conclusions. That’s an integral part of learning.”
I began one year ago. Now, 100 posts, 15,367 page views and 203 comments later I’m still here. The Rubicon I have crossed is that fine line that separates short term from long term, try from perseverance, taster from fullness and explorer from infestation.
When I look at the map below, with dots identifying the recent visits, I am amazed about how so many people from so many different places have reached this page. This beacon has been detected, and many concealed thoughts are now out in the open air. Very positive feedback but also indifference, flames and even insults. An invisible network of visits that spread (and spree) all over the world. Truly amazing.
I know that my posts are usually much longer, but this one won’t. We are at the point in history where there are 100 million bloggers and 200 million ex-bloggers. The analysts say we are reaching the peak. Well, I’m not giving up. Not yet! I still have so much to learn and to reflect about…
Education as a cause for increased productivity or simply an evidence of something that already existed
It is not hard to accept that higher education is correlated to higher wages. Many studies have analysed this relationship. That means that if you pursue higher education you are going to have your returns.
Just try to evaluate them: take into account what you’re spending today in your studies, take into account opportunity costs (what you could be earning of you diverted all the energies and time you’re spending into earning money), think of the possible future income surpluses that you can achieve, and actualise the inflow with reasonable rates. (higher than your mortgage, try to be realistic!)
Even if that leads to a positive figure, the causality question remains. Are you going to have that extra value because of what you’re learning, or is the value actually inside you and you are only making it visible?
Let’s ask it in another way: is a MBA (a PhD, second career, a personal blog, whatever means of learning) a cause to be more productive or simply a mark that can only be achieved by the most productive people? That’s not so simple to answer.
If it was a mark, then certain ways to achieving an MBA would signal the most productive people: for example those that go for an executive MBA thus assuming a considerable extra effort in their lives and thus minimising the opportunity cost of studying.
Is it true that higher productive individuals choose higher education to identify themselves from the rest? Maybe it’s not only that they choose it, but that being them more productive, then the whole cost of studying would be lower for them, enabling them to obtain results easier. The higher the individual productivity, the lower the marginal cost of every meme (as a whole item of additional information) is.
The opposite of signalling is enhancing. Maybe the differences were not preordained but they were simply created by the learning processes.
There’s controversy between both approaches. Some studies point to the first cause, others disagree. Whatever your view there’s (rather ambiguous) data to support it.
If I had to choose I’d go for the hybrid approach. From a pragmatic point of view the hybrid approaches always work better when the demonstrations of the pros and the cons are simply too feeble, especially in a world that’s no longer black and white. But that’s not my reason to choose this approach.
I believe in the difference between having potential and realising that potential. For example I believe that, as a race, the humans have a huge potential that we’ve just only begun to grasp. There’s more to humans than what we see today. But one of our assets is learning: that marks us as privileged individuals between all species. But having the potential to learn is not enough if we don’t make the effort.
So, if you have actually decided to embark in your personal learning project (whatever that is) it means that you have already been marked as a higher productivity individual. But now you must tackle the challenge of realising your potential. Making it a reality is what makes the difference.
This week Ted Rall surprised me with this cartoon. Whether the situation imprinted here corresponds to the our reality or not it’s for you to decide. There are many firms that only pay lip service to the HR function.
More about Ted Rall can be found in his page here. Ted Rall can be described as a liberal (well, yes, a radical liberal) so the page and his cartoons are not apt for Republicans or even mild democrats. Sometimes he exposes views that are hardly exposed in the US, and very common in the rest of the planet, I migth add. So please beware of the link
Do you work in a company that treats you well? How do you measure that? Do they try to put you in an always changing and turbulent situation only thinking on their profit or, alternatively, do they try to give you clear goals, aligned with the corporate strategy, assign you to fixed and predictable assignments and to the same customer? For your own good of course.
Well, sometimes things are not that simple. And that’s the point of my reflection here. Sometimes better can be worse and worse can be even better.
Take the example of the second company. They value you, your loyalty. You’ve reached stability. You are always assigned to the same customer, a predictable customer that needs the same service each year. Great. You’ve reached the point where you can deliver that assignment relaxedly, where you can sit back and think proudly of your post, your company and your life.
But now lets look at the economics. The the laws of economics always end up coming into play…
You’ll be more expensive each year, yes, that’s seniority. The laws of the market will need increased quality and lower price each year for that service. (Yes, believe it, you’re protected by an entry barrier because you know the customer but others are already climbing the wall offering better service at a lesser price). And you’re being accommodated to your post reducing your employability. That’s your net value!
That means that, you’ll be costing more and more and valuing less and less, while competition is around. Who’s losing here? In time they’ll breach your barrier and you’ll need to face the outside world again.
So it seems that a company that spoils you can really spoil you! Thinking of your career, what’s best for your may not be stability, loyalty or commitment, neither be the rewards for them what you really need.
There’s one date that I always long to: the end of summer. Leaving behind that excessive warmth and and welcoming a cooler weather. The beach is empty again, no more noisy crowds. Yet it’s still warm enough to sit between the trees and wander around so many thoughts that I’ve been gathering lately. Quiet enough to think, to reflect, to digest, or to simply relax, procrastinate or do nothing.
Barcelona’s beach in Autumn
This time it was a three-day weekend, long enough to escape from the big city to what once was a small village before the arrival of hordes of tourists. Around this time of the year, the fishermen used to await the “bootcleaner”, a big storm that signalled the end of the warmest days. Autumn was finally coming. They laid their nets and boats close to the beach so they would be rained clean. Then they inspected everything, made due reparations and got everything ready for the forthcoming year.
This year there has been more than one storm, but the weather is still fairly good. A nice September. Actually, the perfect moment to have a bath in the sea, is when you least expect it. After a cloudy day, then the sun suddenly shines, the air is perfectly clean and the waters are crystal clear again, a bit cooler I might say. And it’s all for you, your family, your friends.
With the distance that a fresh bath can provide, but still being in your MBA mind frame, you can see and feel how we have diverted from the way that people should be treated, respected or enabled. Close to nature and far from stress, it’s easy to envision the good nature in people, McGregor’s Theory Y that Rousseau would surely have endorsed, the Harvard approach to HRM, and forget for a while Hobbes view, name it Theory X, Taylorism or the Michigan approach to HR.
If we don’t believe in the inherently good human nature, how are we going to trust anyone? and then, who are we going to rely on? Will we have to do everything ourselves? how it will be possible to delegate? to enable? to empower? We won’t be able to grow.
If we believe that all humans just seek the greater economic gain, shouldn’t we stop using the collaborative words and concepts? We’d have to keep our information private and secret, stop writing learning journals or blogs, stop thinking aloud… always scared to become or be seen like sheep, we’d end up being wolves.
The end of summer is a good moment to reflect, to start anew, to free yourself from long held assumptions and misconceptions. To believe. For sometimes it’s necessary to forget in order to be able to learn.
These days I’m working a lot. But, even being tired, I’m still looking forward to having some free time to jump into my HRM and Operations books and texts and devouring them.
I’m enjoying the readings a great deal. The more I read, the more I want to read. I know that makes that “eureka moment” that my fellow student Andy described as when you can effectively focus on your assignments go further away and, at some point, pragmatism will have to be imposed, but not yet.
The operations book is really nice to read, the CD-Rom included is very interesting. I’ve also bought a copy of “HRM in a business context” by Price, referred many times through the text and, the more I read it, the more I’m interested in HRM. And there are the dozens, or even hundreds of articles that I’ve been given… some of them open new amazing doors… and I really feel like crossing all of them.
I do know that eventually I’ll have to focus on the assignment, but I’m trying not to think about that. The later the better. I already have the idea, and I think all the activities applied to it.
When I meet an interesting idea I reflect upon it, and I try to apply it to my experience.I beginning to think about situations that have happened under a different focus and devise different outcomes. Even the blog is suffering of lack of dedication because of my smoking knowledge. I see my colleagues and myself now acting under a different light. And that makes it even more interesting.
I visualise myself as a huge sea sponge that wants to grow more and more. A hot-air-balloon that swallows more and more hot air getting ready to ride. And I’m having a lot of fun.
No beach this weekend, no gardening, just some gym, some herbal infusions (yes, that’s my kitchen), maybe a movie, maybe some friends around… but especially my sofa, my desk and my book companions
Those who are used to reading me have noticed I’ve been away from blogging these days. It’s no coincidence. I’ve been trying to follow two different paths that are just like two parallel lines that never cross: finishing my Dynamics of Management module on time (and the assignement I’m supposed to do) and following the trail to every interesting idea I could sense.
The first was hard enough, but the latter has been just crazy. I’ve wandered through tons of different pages in EBSCO and ProQuest, reading more and more. Found so many ideas worth reflecting! Many worth sharing here! I will, eventually.
But I can’t now. I have so many things to reflect about that I should stop for a while, rest back, relax, contemplate, interiorise, challenge. I know I need it.
I can’t stop either.
That’s why I almost don’t have time for my blog. The hours spent blogging have been, and will be dramatically reduced until mid-august. That’s after my next stay at Henley for the completion of the module.
Then I expect to be generous with my blog again.
Probably I wouldn’t need to read and try to comprehend everything for the assignement, but that’s the way I want to do it: learning comes first.
In the meantime I downloaded everything into my laptop and left for the beach. Fortunately I have some days off and I’ll be able to catch up with my fellow students. Here I have no Internet and no timetable, no public transport systems, no rush, no boss, no airport… only great views and many leaves in the garden.
Me, myself, the trees, two dogs and tons of thinks to read.
Don’t get me wrong. I love every minute of it. I only wish I had more time to digest. You know what I wrote about learning at a hectic pace in my last post.
(I wonder if by inviting my tutors and my teachers here I’d get more time
I’ll keep you posted.
Yesterday my friend Barun Moitra made a very important remark to my post about Ackoff’s spectrum of learning, learning it’s not about gathering data but about understanding information. I agreed completely but I felt that my answer was too short.
Because the spectrum of learning comprises a lot more than understanding, and so does learning. Imagine for instance that you acquire new information, discerning it from raw data. Ok, but that’s not enough. You must relate it to yourself, to both sides of your brain (isn’t it great that different Earth hemispheres’ cultures have happened to excel in different sides of the brain?) You must internalise it, relate it to yourself, feel it, make it go through your lenses, your experiences, the way you are… in short, make it yours.
That’s why we don’t learn when learning at a frantic pace. Because learning and frantic paces are contradictory. There’s no way you’re going to learn without reflecting. You will acquire some information, true albeit probably less than what you think you’re acquiring. You will acquire some abilities too, practise your analytical capabilities, but there’s more to learning than that.
And that’s not the way to learn management either. Choose your own way: if your MBA is making you work relentlessly, you’re not learning enough; if your everyday experience is not letting you reflect, you’re also missing an important learning experience.
Remember Mintzberg’s definition of manager in his 1971 analysis? One of the key sentences was: managers work at an unrelenting pace. Well, let them learn, let them set aside from the road, give them time to reflect, give them time to interiorise from their experience, and their practical learning will thrive.
You can do that in a big group, in a smaller group (although I tend to think that smaller and democratical groups are dangerous because they try to find things in common while they should be trying to diverge) or even on your own. (I’m doing it thanks to this blog, and I feel I’m learning). It can even involve facilitators (yes, I said facilitators, not teachers, usually there’s some centuries of management knowledge in a class or among this blog’s readers, while the teacher will have decades at most, if any)
And reflecting for a manager also means relief, some time off that frantic pace. A chance to build those personal insights. A chance to find that idea that eluded us. Managers should have the time for that, but also provide the time for their subordinates to do so. Managers are, in turn, facilitators of their managed ones.
And remember, there’s no better case than direct first-hand experience!
And that’s quite a change from Mintzberg’s vision 35 years ago: charismatic leaders are no longer wanted, coaches are. But the socratic method stays the same: asking questions. We already knew that 2.400 years ago!
But remember, learning means change. If you gather data, information, reflect, get knowledge… something must come out of it to make sense. This is the moment when we come to wisdom. We change. We become wiser thus we act different. Then it all makes sense.
There must be a change. You must be able to do things differently. It can be listening more to people or in a different way, it can be being more cooperative or more executive, but if nothing happens to you, if you go on business as usual, then it’s been a waste of time.
And revealed and shared learning creates trust, fellowship, friendship. Even here, on-line. It doesn’t really matter if we share positive or negative experiences, you can learn from both, but, inadvertently, you also change the way you relate to others.