#ParisAttacks Aftershocks – And The Urge to Find Meaning

Paris Republique MeaningfulnessI think it is finally dawning on all of us that we are living in a radical new era. It seems that little by little, methodically interspersed with several months and country by country, we find a new date to mark on the calendar as a day of memorial, of grief and of spine-chilling angst. This Wikipedia entry — documenting all types of terrorist actions in 2015 alone — shows how frequent the acts of violence have become. In 2015, we may be living in times when there has never been more progress in medicine, technology and science. There may be great ambitions to send manned missions to Mars and the other side of the moon.There may not be a world war as history books tend to write about them. However, I am sure I am not alone in feeling that there is also good reason to review what we all doing, ponder why we are doing it and, pressingly, how we are spending our time and resources at work.

In contemplating November 13’s tragic events in Paris, I came away with three thoughts.

  1. It is evermore critical to do things that are meaningful. Did anyone else notice how hard it was to get any work done in the aftermath? Granted it was the weekend, but everything non essential seemed to be stripped away. Unless our activity has a deeper purpose, one can literally feel the reservoir of energy running out. I am sure that many people around the world who have trudged into work this Monday morning are scrubbing their brows.
  2. As much as we might now know that change is every day — evermore so recently than ever in the past — that doesn’t make the change any easier. If we all have to gear up for systematic perturbations, that heightens the need for a strong, shared and meaningful NORTH heading. This is true for us as individuals. It is true for us as entrepreneurs, business leaders and employees. And, of course, most emphatically for our society. With all these changing winds, we need a strong compass to help guide us in our professional and personal lives.
  3. Lastly, on a rather more banal level, I could not help but feel upset at the mundane tweets and messages that floated out on Friday evening and over the weekend thanks to a cue of pre-programmed communications using one or other marketing automation service (Buffer, Hootsuite, etc.). I thought I’d made sure all of mine were closed, but I still missed one tweet. Marketing automation is possibly a necessary evil for business, but when you pre-program all your communications, you lose the context and can end up with some awful mistakes – that come off as total callousness.

Your thoughts and reactions are welcome.


How to Become the Titan of the Industry – Buy Me To the Moon!

Over the last week, we have seen a host of announced mergers and acquisition. Taken together, in my opinion, these would harken some scary conclusions.

Buy me to the moon?

Merger titan of industryIn the last week alone, we saw three acquisitions announced that show how fiercely these companies want to be bigger. It all seems about becoming the titan of the industry. If NASA and Roscosmos (Russia’s space agency) are both looking to fly manned missions back to the moon, these different corporate management teams are looking to buy me to the moon.

  • Allergan and Pfizer merger would make a combined entity with over $300 billion in valuation (WSJ) – 29 October. This comes on the heels of Pfizer’s acquisition of Hospira earlier this year (for $15 billion – Guardian)
  • Hyatt ($7 billion valuation) is apparently targeting the acquisition of Starwood Hotels (c $13.5 billion valuation) – 28 October via CNBC
  • Walgreen to buy Rite-Aid ($17.2 billion) – October 28 via USA Today

Earlier in the year, we had many other huge merger & acquisitions announced or completed: Continue reading

The Craft of Storytelling – Practice Makes Perfect, But It Can Also Drive Your Closest Allies Nuts

Storytelling ArpeggioWhat makes for a great storyteller? I have to believe it’s an alchemy between talent, content and practice. Like a musician doing repeated scales and arpeggios, it is true that for those who live in close proximity, the practice can also drive one a bit nuts. The craft of storytelling is as old as the ages. It is the human condition to need to share and listen to stories; stories that move us. Some people are more gifted storytellers than others; but practice can make up a lot of the difference.

Crafting Your Stories…

It struck me, the other day, that people who have lots of friends probably have a better chance to become great storytellers. At the very least, they will be able to practice a good deal more with a live audience. If you only had a few friends, you won’t be able to repeat the same story too many times. Someone who has many friends can practice the storytelling across his or her network.

Friends & Family

Friends and family are often indicated as the first round of seed financing. They also serve as your first (core) level of fans; if they don’t want to talk about you, then you’ve got a problem. Friends and family are, naturally, the first (and most important) audience for your own storytelling. In my case, I know that I am no comedian. My (few) jokes need a lot more work. 

But when it comes to being a storyteller, it is important to be able to tell them repeatedly and in different situations. When practicing them, you can’t abuse your intimate family and friends with the same story over and over (that’s what Grandpa will do at dinner, glass of Scotch at hand). Thus, it is useful to have a wider circle of friends to refine your story and the storytelling. People’s reactions are the best feedback. If they say too often, “Yeah, Minter, that was interesting”, more than likely I need to go back to the drawing board. 

Develop Your Strategy to Practice More

Even if one doesn’t have a large network of friends, one needs to find an appropriate strategy to practice more. For the introvert storytellers, who might have a smaller (but tighter) group of friends, one will need to find alternative avenues. Depending on the personality, one such strategy is to write up the stories or record them on a private link and have the web friends give feedback. 

Maslow’s pyramid of needs… as expressed by this photographer in Syria

I listened yesterday to a Western photographer, whose name has been kept secret out of concern for his safety and who has been working in the government-controlled part of Deir ez-Zor, Syria, give an interview on the BBC. In the ten-minute interview, the photographer talked about living in this city, with a population of some 200,000 people, that has been under siege by ISIS. He is obviously a brave man. The conditions seem appalling and the assignment perilous. Tough as it was, however, he stressed he was living in a privileged position. He then proceeded to list what he meant by privileged. He started off by citing food, water, +2 hours of electricity per day. In addition, he said that he had access to the sole Internet connection in the city. He finally added that he was also privileged because he had bodyguard protection. 

Maslow's Pyramid of Needs in Syria

I thought the order in which he talked about his privilege to be quite revealing, no? Despite living in the heartland of the most barbaric of terrorist groups, this cameraman puts internet connection above having bodyguards! A revisiting of Maslow’s pyramid of needs may be in order?

You can hear this BBC podcast here until 13 July 2015!

Three things you don’t know about Iceland

Having just spent a few days Iceland, I have reaffirmed the fantastic advantage of travelling to a country to open your mind. With no more than 24 hours on Iceland’s sunny (if cold) shores, I discovered three things I didn’t imagine about Iceland. Arriving just after midnight into Reykjavik, I was welcomed by a setting sun (see below the nightscape at 1am). And yes, Iceland is home to the famous mid-summer white nights. But, you knew that.

Iceland sunset

A whale of a time

The first thing I discovered about Iceland was that they serve whale. Since I had never eaten whale, it had not occurred to me that the whale dish would be a meat dish. How naive! Would you have thought it so? Here it is:

Iceland dish

Had I not told you, would have thought this image was whale meat? I might add that it was very tasty. If you are interested, here’s a fine address to check out in Reykjavik: 3 Frakkar — which means Three French (a propos!) or Three Coats in Icelandic.

Icelandic naming device

Secondly, unique to Iceland, no child carries the father’s last name. They don’t even carry the mother’s last name. In fact, children carry a last name composed of: Continue reading

Uber beautiful – is Uber creating value? I tend to believe so

Uber logo squareLast night, my Uber driver, Mohammed (from Somalia), was an absolute delight. As much as one can argue about some of the less salacious tactics of Uber, the underlying principle of Uber creates an environment for truly different experiences. I wrote about the same type of feeling when transacting on Craigslist. Wherever I bought or sold using Craigslist, the community experience was delightful.

Mohammed referred to us (Uber passengers) as beautiful people. While we’ll take the compliment, it was more interesting to hear how Mohammed, who has been an Uber driver for 8 months, described the relationship he has with Uber and his passengers. And he described the gulf between the way he felt treated by other limousine services for which he’d driven for 5 years prior and with Uber.

Since Uber takes care of us, we take care of the passengers. Uber gets that!”

It’s a case in point where employee engagement is critical in terms of customer experience.

Driver – passenger

As for the relationship with the passengers, Mohammed went on:

Perhaps, it’s because of the rating system, but I keep on meeting beautiful people.

uber beautiful two arrowsI suspect that there is also an element an early-adopter community of people who are on and using Uber. Having used Uber in five countries (out of the 58 where Uber now operates) and in over ten cities, I can say that I have had a consistently good experience. In some cities, where the taxi service is rather poor (e.g. Paris), Uber provides a radically superior service. In a city like London, where the Black Cab is exceptionally good, the premium service comes with premium conditions: in the street pickup, inside space (bigger), taxi lanes (faster) and the Knowledge (less reliance on a map).

The driver experience

As Mohammed noted above, he feels Uber treats him well. This is surely not true all around the world for Uber drivers. However, in most cities, Uber drivers talk about short waiting times and a generally good revenue. Another driver I had recently was a convert from being a bus driver. He spoke about his journey from bus driver to Uber driver and, to his great satisfaction, he is earning 3x more and working 1/2 less. Plus he knows London rather well. Another element I hear regularly cited is the benefit for drivers in not having to chase down payment… The automatic payment system avoids those times when a passenger will jump without paying or finagle on price. From a passenger standpoint, we are winners too (unless you’re among those who prefer not to pay!).

Overall, it is my belief that Uber is extending and expanding the market for personal transportation. As such it is, in all likelihood, helping de-emphasize the need for car ownership. In the big scheme of things, this is a bonus for the environment. Thanks to the suave Uber app, the user experience is superb (although the initial pin accuracy could still be improved). The communication fluidity between driver and passenger is easy and effective, doing much to create a favorably charged relationship. On top of the payment facilities, the option of identifying and rewarding great driver experiences (6th Star) reinforces the desire to go beyond the call of duty. If there remain legal questions, some questionable business tactics (against Lyft, etc) and issues with driver selection and insurance, overall, I believe Uber is creating value.

What’s been your experience with Uber (and Lyft etc)? Are you a fan or do you believe Uber is not for you?

British Airways First Class is more like Last in Class

This may seem like a First World problem, but my experience with British Airways is a great point in case about how visceral and personal a relationship can be with a brand.

Two months ago, I had a miserable experience, having been downgraded involuntarily on a 10 1/2 hour flight from London to Austin (Texas). You can read about the British Airways saga part 1 and part 2, here. You will literally be shocked by the treatment. It makes for a scary way of running a business.

First Class… really?

BA First_Class1On my most recent trans-Atlantic flight to San Francisco, travelling on British Airways in First Class, I was emphatically non-plussed by the service. Having had a disastrous experience with BA recently, I was hoping that the BA team might have put 2 and 2 together to make a little special effort. Nothing of the sort. It was a most standard experience. Their tagline is damningly wrong: Designed with you in mind. The only issue is that they didn’t know who you is!

Customer experience – the technology

Outside of one of the flight attendants (Kristie) who was absolutely charming and dedicated (and who had informed the purser about my plight), it was a strictly plain experience. Unlike a business class seat I had sat in recently, the BA 1st class seat does not come with any place to store papers, books, computer, etc. The audio-visual entertainment set didn’t work at least for the first hour and then broke down en route.

Customer experience – the service

to try to serve British Airways

To “try” to serve – British Airways

For the main meal, I foolishly chose Aberdeen Beef. I should have guessed when I was not asked how I would like it; but, it was drastically overcooked. When I went to sleep, to take advantage of the 180º bed, I was peeved to discover that there was was no pillow or cover. No one came to make my bed (unlike some other passengers). Talk about not feeling pampered. At the end of the flight, the well-meaning Purser came over apologetically to say how he had been occupied with the AV issues. Thus, he had not been able to “individually welcome” the passengers.

What is Luxury?

In a fast-paced world, where the experience is the brand, British Airways is an example of how NOT to deliver. BA’s executive team seems more interested in drumming up ideas, writing reports and managing budgets. To wit, BA was the first airline to have an app for the Apple Watch. Meanwhile, basic attention to details, pampering of customers and paleolithic style of communication are a testament to a company that has not morphed into the 21st century.

The galling part of the whole experience with BA is that each flight seems to operate in total isolation with anything that happened before or after. In today’s world, building brand affinity and loyalty is all about engaging in a lasting experience, where there is a before, during and after. Brands that learn to craft a seamless, customer-centric experience that is augmented with technology and imparted by an engaged staff will find ways to win. British Airways is definitively not among those that have bought in to that vision.

“Rather draw than withdraw” IamCharlie


“Rather draw than withdraw”


My second contribution to the Charlie Hebdo Massacre. #iamcharlie Iamcharlie

To all the cartoonists who bring to life the issues and challenge of our daily existence.

Here is my first one: “It’s a pen I want, not Le pen”

“It’s a pen I want, not Le pen” #JesuisCharlie


My artistic contribution following the Charlie Hebdo massacre. #JeSuisCharlie
BTW The image of the boy on the right was derived from Calvin & Hobbes. See the Gawker story of its origin. The fountain pen is a gorgeous Classic Pens LB2 Kimono Daichi (from Collectors Weekly). These Maki-e pens are hand-painted in Japan with a gold and lacquer process.

black_ribbon #jesuisCharlie


Here is a second cartoon: “Rather Draw than Withdraw

Unbroken film review – Angelina Jolie’s tribute to a great spirit

The film, Unbroken, the epic story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, was released this Christmas Day. Based on Unbroken Film Trailerthe eponymous and gripping book by Laura Hillenbrand, Angelina Jolie’s inaugural film as a director is a worthy film to see. As stated at the beginning of the film, this is a true story … that is very hard to believe, it is so gruelling and impressive. This 136-minute film was clearly shot with the Oscars in mind, in that there are a number of “big moments” that are portrayed with intentional big screen drama. On the positive side, though, for a wartime film, Jolie did not overplay the violence. It’s a war film, written by a woman, directed by a woman, that shows a man’s war with pathos and intensity. As such, my wife and daughter, as well as my son and myself, enjoyed the film. Neither my wife nor daughter had read the book, so they had no attachment to the book version. And that’s okay, as far as I am concerned, because the purpose of the film is both entertainment and educational. The film does a good job of portraying the emotional journey of Zamperini, played by the English actor, Jack O’Connell. Zamperini’s stout resistance in the face of sadistic treatment is credible and inspiring.

“If you can take it, you can make it”

The POW experience in Japanese prison camps

Unbroken film review defianceFor someone who has read some 300 books on this part of WWII and has interviewed over 100 ex-POWs, the film, Unbroken, does a standup job of portraying just enough of the inhumane treatment. It glosses over some of the daily miseries, such as the ever-present insects, the menace of tropical disease and the paucity of food and clean water. However, between the missing finger nails, the wretched forced labor, the harrowing punishments imposed on Zamperini and the scene of the hundred punches, the execrable POW treatment is evident. The 30% to 40% death rate in certain Japanese prison camps is understated, since none of the prisoners around Zamperini ever die during their internment.

Telling history

The film, Unbroken, does not portray the Japanese captors in a favorable light. As mentioned above, there is enough grim treatment in the film to capture the essence of the cruelty. That said, there is no gratuitous violence portrayed, whereas it is well known that there were miscellaneous bayonettings, beheadings and beatings bestowed by the Japanese captors, whose Bushido code designated prisoners as less than worthy. Unfortunately, the Japanese have never truly recognized their responsibility nor officially apologized. There is a current movement in Japan to re-write history and whitewash this chapter of the war. In point of fact, there is a movement underway to ban the film in Japan. Read this article in The Telegraph (UK). This is deeply unsatisfying. According to historian Rudolph J Rummel, in his research, “Statistics of democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900 Transaction,” about 10,700 US POWs were killed by the Japanese in captivity, including my grandfather (see the Smithsonian article by Gilbert King). An appalling total of 570,000 POWs were killed in Japanese captivity — Chinese 400,000, French Indochina 30,000, Philippines 27,300, Netherlands 25,000, France 14,000, UK 13,000, UK colonies 11,000 & Australia 8,000. (Source: Wikipedia).

If you so agree, please do sign this petition to encourage the film Unbroken not to be banned in Japan. (Via Change.org)


And read the book

Unbroken Film reviewIf you have not read the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, I most strongly recommend it. The hardcover version has been 180 consecutive weeks on the NYT best-seller list. The paperback version is now available for $9.60. It has been translated into 29 languages.

What did you think of this Unbroken film review? What did you think of the film? Please do let us know your thoughts!