Sir James Dyson Airblade: Favourite Hair Dryer Status

Dyson Airblade Hand DryerAs you travel around and visit the various public toilets, you tend to come across an ever growing array of hand dryers. Nothwithstanding the different ecological benefits, which obviously vary between units, some hand dryers are more effective and sleek than others. Not that I have seen any list of top ranked hand dryers, although such much exist somewhere, I thought I’d post about this Dyson Airblade hand dryer, invented by billionaire Sir James Dyson. I found it extremely attractive, sleek and effective. You basically put your hands down into the slot and the thrust of cold air dries your hands in no time flat (officially 10 seconds). When you extract your hands, the machine actually turns off immediately. Here is a write up on gizmodo. The Dyson Airblade apparently uses 80% less energy than normal warm hand dryers and is thus better for the environment. The Airblade is a credit to design and engineering. Check the company’s site for a better animated visual of the product.

Is there Good News in the Swine Flu?

Swine Flue Cartoon
Swine Flu: Some bad news, some profiteers, and perhaps some good new habits!

 

As the world awaits for the onslaught of the swine flu [porcine flu, aka A(H1N1)], there are going to be evident winners and losers. The losers? Basically all of us: consumers, society at large and business (especially with poor cash flow), if the epidemic does come home to roost. There will also be profiteers. While hospitals and pharmacies risk a deluge, the pharmaceutical companies with anti-flu medicine are bound to benefit enormously and, some say, they are behind the summer media frenzy. In the likely panic and fear-mongering that will lead up to the ‘Flu Fall, consumers will surge to buy extra tissues, hygienic towelettes (wet wipes), alcohol-based gels or sanitizers and face masks. BTW I note that Fushi-Protective has bought premium space on Google and advertises in broken English (Chinese company): “specializing in face mask prevent from swine flu.” Frankly, improving people’s personal hygiene — even making acceptable in the Western world the wearing of a face mask as we see in Asia — will be a win for society. Cleaning our hands more regularly would be a good habit to inculcate. Buying internal filtering systems that “clean” up the air inside is another interesting avenue, albeit one that provides also provides a long-term benefit (a player in this area I have come across is called AirSur, which can provide allergy-free air at home).

Distance Learning eLearning

But, beyond the health-related plays, the one area for which the swine flu could be a super boon is distance learning. Imagine the situation: schools being closed down for long stretches, for example 12 weeks, as France’s Education Minister, Luc Chatel, has just announced as a possible measure for the upcoming bout with the potential epidemic. Schools should be getting themselves prepared to turn their courses into proper distance learning or eLearning — not just a rebroadcast of filmed lectures, but up-to-date e-pedagogy based on the exceptional possibilities that internet provides. This is a great opportunity to modernize, if not revolutionize, the education institutions — especially those that have been reluctant to move forward with technologies. The students we know will be willing. The question is whether the schools — and their teachers — will be nimble enough to react.
Distance Learning Mouse & Academic Cap
In the same vein, but only because I happened to be based in Paris this year, I think of distance learning as a great way to get around strikes and scam manifestations such as we experienced in several higher institutions in France (e.g. Sorbonne Paris IV, Toulouse-II Le Mirail, Aix-Marseille-I, Amiens,  Caen, Nancy-II and Reims…). For the teachers and students who were forced to stay at home by a small contingent of indignant ‘revolting’ students, courses should have been available over the ‘net.

Lastly, the trend of reducing business travel (budget cuts under the guise of green fingers) and “congregation” meetings may also continue, since such meetings will only promote further contagion. Another area that is bound to benefit is thus video-conferencing and distance meetings and webinars.

So, the swine flu may be a nightmare about to happen, but I see that there may yet be positive results in the long-term, including improving our hygiene habits, reducing carbon footprints and, possibly, generalising the practice of eLearning.

Your reactions are welcome!

Frightful packaging waste with Canon printer ink cartridges

There are a number of marketing concepts which capture the consumer with a proprietary and branded system that requires regular replenishment of equally proprietary and costly refills. There are two “handcuff” systems with which I am confronted on a regular basis: my Gillette Mach 3 razor and my bluetooth Canon printer. In both cases, the price of the “refill” is absolutely stunning.

Yesterday, for my Canon Pixma MP470 printer, I purchased a replacement black (PG40) and colour (PG41) ink cartridge at the local Ternes FNAC. The price for the two cartridges was 47 euros — and I certainly do not get the feeling that they are long lasting. The challenge that I have with this particular ‘system’ is the incredible amount of packaging that goes along with the cartridges… as if the amount of packaging justified the price? Below, I detail what embalms each ink cartridge.

First stop, the outer packaging. A large plastic container, with some paper inserts for on-shelf communication purposes.

Canon Ink PG Black Outer Packaging

Next step, a cardboard inner box, which is visible from the outside in the open space in the bottom of the outer. This packaging even comes with a slot to “hang” on a rack — proof that it can live alone.

Canon Ink PG40 Packaging

Once you have opened up this cardboard box, you get to packaging layer #3. A plastic tub, with a film over the top, presumably to keep the ink cartridge “fresh”. In addition, you also get paper foldout multilingual instructions. And, of course, before you insert the ink cartridge, you have the final little orange plastic strip to remove (to “enable” the ink).

Canon Ink Cartridge PG40 Packaging

The scale of the waste is quite impressive merely on the micro level. However, in the US alone, according to Ink Guides, “[o]ver 375 million empty toner cartridges and ink cartridges are thrown into the trash every year in the US… [meaning] roughly 11 cartridges being disposed of every second.” In a surprising statement, in the US, apparently 30% of all ink cartridges and 50% of all toner cartridges are being recycled. I am not aware of the circuit for such recycling in France, but I would doubt that Europe reaches those still-low levels.

To this end, I believe it would be fully appropriate for Canon to provide documentation on how to recycle their ink cartridges and all the superfluous waste. There are now a growing number of opportunites and ways to recycle or even refurbish ink cartridges. Here is Cartridge Fundraising, a friendly site with advice and ways to recycle. [And herewith an interesting site for further reading on the topic: Ink Guides.]

As I mentioned at the outset of this post, the prices of these refills is quite outrageous compared to the “hardware” cost. Looking across a few ecommerce sites, the variation in pricing of these ink cartridges would lead me to speculate about how much “profit” is being drawn. The list price for the PG40 black ink cartridge is stated in the US as being $39. Amazon is currently selling them at a massive 50% discount at $18; but you can also buy “new” ones at $14 on Amazon. Incredibly, used ones are also going for $14. Refurbished cartridges are going for $13. Another option is the generic cartridge. Here is one for Canon ink cartridges: Castle Ink — where the generic version is being sold for $18.

The Green Revolution(s) – Gre(at)en Article by Thomas L Friedman

Green Revolution Iran

I particularly enjoyed Thomas Friedman’s editorial in the New York Times (or International Herald Tribune) of June 25, 2009, entitled “The Green Revolution(s)”. For those of you are still not inclined to believe in the need to reduce man-made pollution and join the ecological bandwagon, here is a well written exposé on why we should at least reduce our consumption of petrol in the Western World: reduce the demand of (and the dependence on) oil and prices will tumble. Friedman cites The First Law of Petro-Politics “…which stipulates that the price of oil and the pace of freedom in petrolist states – states totally dependent on oil exports to run their economies – operate in an inverse correlation.” So, regardless of any potential benefit for General Motors and Chrysler and their “Greener” cars, the geopolitics of the world would be a much better place if the “easy money” derived from oil exports was exposed for “bad money” and the auto-aggrandisement and self confidence == that comes from being financially secure — were deflated as speedily as oil prices decreased. Friedman cites Yegor Gaidar, a deputy prime minister in Russia in the early 1990s, as saying that “the collapse of the Soviet Union could be traced to Sept 13, 1985…” date on which Saudi Arabia officially changed its oil policy, unleashed its production and brought oil prices tumbling down and, consequently, the Soviet Union to its knees.

Friedman believes that by reducing the Western World’s dependence on oil, the Green Revolution (the reformers) in Iran will be able to take hold, allow greater freedom for its population and bring down the Islamic dictatorship. Along the way, perhaps the collateral benefits might also be applied to other oil-rich despotic regimes, such as in Nigeria, Venezuela and even the rigid Russia. As Friedman exhorts: “An American Green Revolution to end our oil addiction – to parallel Iran’s Green Revolution to end its theocracy – helps us, help them…”

So, this is just one more reason to take the greener roads, for surely the grass is greener on the other side of this hill.

Starbucks opens eco-store, 50th in France

Starbucks France celebrated last week (July 1st) the opening of its 50th store in the country, with all the Starbucks high brass in attendance.  Located in the Disney Village at Disneyland outside of Paris, this store is the first “eco-responsible” Starbucks outside of Seattle, where they have already opened two such eco-concept stores. 

The concept and design of this Eco-Responsible Starbucks is “an evolution of the Third Place concept,” whereby, according to the company, Starbucks would be the third “go to” place behind the home and the workplace.

Starbucks Disney Paris Eco Store: Light within a Light Concept
 Light within a light decorations

In keeping with a Sustainable Development approach, the design of the store was conceived by using as many local partners as possible (furnishings were all provided by businesses within a radius of 30 km of the store) and to be strongly ingrained with the local [“Disney”] community.

One of the highlight points was that this Starbucks store is LEED certified.  Now recognized in some 90 countries, LEED has become an international standard for benchmarking energy consumption and CO2 emissions.  Three pillars to the eco-conception: natural ventilation for the air conditioning system (-30% reduction in energy), LED and fluo-compact lighting (-90% in electricity consumption in the public zones of the store), and various water reducing mechanisms (mousser, sensor systems…) which are expected to reduce water consumption by 49%. 

Starbucks Euro Disney Store: Wine Rack Lighting 
Wine rack used for ceiling decoration

This Disney Village Starbucks features a number of recycled materials and objects, including using wine racks for lighting (pictured) and ceiling decorations, wood from wine barrels, airplane carpeting and used leather from jettisoned cars. 

Starbucks Founder CEO Howard Schultz in ParisI spoke with CEO and founder, Howard Schultz who was on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon, and asked about when Starbucks would make it to coffee-paradise Italy?  He said that there were no definitive plans, but that Italy’s day would come some day.  Meanwhile, in another coffee-loving country, Turkey, Schultz was quick to say how well Starbucks has done there. 

Starbucks Community Involvement
Around the store were plaques that made for casual reading and reaffirm Starbucks’ official policy regarding its community involvement (pictured left) and environmental stewardship.  In all, the Starbucks store continues to provide a different way to enjoy coffee and clearly the Starbucks employees (“partners”) were enjoying the new concept.  Starbucks plan to generalize this concept throughout its network for all new stores and any renovations.  Read here for more on their own news wire.

Irony of the opening ceremony was how hard it was to get served a coffee.  A little “pull” and I was served.  After the store opening ceremony, Starbucks “partners” in France were invited to a 5-year anniversary party in a big tent behind the 50th store.  I took a sneak preview and enjoyed a few words with a woman there to teach about Starbucks’ philosophy regarding bean selection and coffee-making.  Kudos to Starbucks France Managing Director and fellow INSEAD grad Philippe Sanchez.

Permanent Changes arising from the Economic Crisis

Changes? What Changes?
Change InvertedThe ongoing worldwide economic crisis has created many obvious changes in behaviour, mostly focused on the effects of reduced funds. Whether it is the fear that makes a salaried person “tighten” his or her budget or someone who actually has less money coming in (for example, an entrepreneur struggling to make ends meet or, worse yet, someone who has been fired), there is less money floating around. However, given human nature, once the world’s economies recover and businesses reignite, with fuller employment, most of these shifts in behaviour will inevitably revert back in pavlovian style to the habits of the past.

The question that interests me most, however, for this post is which of the changes will be permanent. The profound changes in culture and the creation of related new processes are what will cause the change to stick. Many of the changes pre-date the recession, at least in their origin. The recession has also provoked new business models and practices. Among the lingering changes in behaviour, clearly, from a corporate standpoint, managers who have never had to face such difficult times will have plentiful learnings which should augur well for being better prepared in future downturns. A perfect example is how management at internet companies have managed this crisis much better since getting their proverbial fingers burned in bursting of the internet bubble in 2000-2001.

I will present below which four major changes I believe will have staying power, at least in the much of the developed world.

Durable Sustainable Development Effects

Instant Sustainable Development

As the need to green has invaded mass media, I have three thoughts here about the more lasting cultural shifts: (1) There is clearly a move away from heavy consumption of fossil fuels (SUVs and cars in general), creating new habits such as walking to work or taking public transport which may, in turn, help justify and finance more public transport development. (2) Purchasing “green” for the long term should have, by definition, a long tail. An example is the purchase of long lasting LED lights whose benefits of durability and low energy consumption are slowly gaining traction, even if they present a higher upfront cost. (3) Attention to reducing water consumption has meant walking away from bottled water (at restaurants as well as at home) and perhaps showering a little quicker and, perhaps, less frequently… On average, every minute under the shower represents 2 gallons or 7 1/2 litres. (Find out how much water you use daily with this handy USGS calculator here). There’s a continuing business opportunity for the water filter companies, although it is not so good for the shower gel business.

ChangeGoods that are good for you and the end of consumerism
I would argue that, for an ever growing part of the population, there is going to be a true and lasting trend away from hyper consumerism. Ownership is not all it is be cracked up to be. Beyond the worry of reduced finances, the issue of buying and owning goods is one of quality of life: people will come to the realisation that owning too much is actually a burden, a headache, often times actually creating additional embedded costs and hassles; and, it certainly does not lead to greater happiness.

Someone who owns more than two homes knows what I am talking about: each home creates multiples of paperwork, presumably having to adjust to different rules and regulations. Just making sure that each house is stocked with the basics, much less complete dinner settings, etc. is quite the ongoing exercise. If you are someone who owns a super expensive car, you know that investing in spare parts and getting little scratch marks fixed is a hassle — especially as you roam away from the local dealership. Finding “protected” parking when you decide to take your jazzy car for a ride in town is an extra constraint. Of course, having too much of anything means that you need to have the space to store it… extra hassle and expenses. One of the more potent trends that plays to avoiding owning yet another holiday house: swapping homes (whether for the holidays or not). Here’s a plug for a friend’s initiative, Geenee, which allows for a swap with the “world’s best.”

Slow FoodOn another level, eating at home as opposed to going out to the restaurant will create a new culture of homecooking, with a sharper attention to the ingredients (not just their cost). There has apparently been tremendous growth in cooking school enrollments. And, in a similar vein, there is also the notion of SLOW FOOD*, as promoted diligently and valiantly in the US by Alice Waters (check out her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA where they serve only in-season fruit and vegetables).

So, the lasting trend here is a move away from amassing goods that crimp my space, burden my mind and waste resources. Instead, people w
ill focus on goods that bring mental freedom, physical health and, hopefully, a smile to the face. As the literature and media coverage latches on to this trend, I see this trend going mainstream even in the rich circles. Recommended reading: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and The Art of Simpe Food by Alice Waters.

Buy Local
Buy Fresh Buy Local LabelThere are two driving forces to buy local: “sustainable development” and latent protectionism. If you buy locally produced goods, the concept is that the items didn’t use as many resources travelling from faraway lands, and at the same time that you are supporting your local community. There are two sBuy Local Posterubplots to this trend: the potential revival of the feelgood effect of buying from a local shopkeeper who knows you (even by name!), and greater attention to the content (“made in” labels) and ingredients (“made of”). In economic tough times, this may be a counter-intuitive trend in that mom & pop stores have a hard time competing on price. Nonetheless, I would look for this “Buy Local” trend to prosper on the other side of the recession.

How Well do You ShareSharing, renting and leasing versus buying

There are certainly economic reasons for not being able to buy something and, to the extent the item you are looking to buy is for limited use (e.g. a new dress for a party, a bigger car for a 2 week family holiday…), the option of sharing, renting or leasing becomes more inviting. Sharing & renting may also be collateral plays on the reduced need/desire to buy and own (point 2 above) as the need to preserve and store the item(s) is less onerous. Sharing & renting also pander well to the green conscience. With this burgeoning trend, there are many new offers that have cropped up. I cite a few of the more interesting ones that I have come across:
  • Zipcar: a for-profit, membership-based carsharing company providing automobile rental to its members, billable by the hour or day.
  • ArtRentandlease.com: providing “rotating monthly rental packages, Fine Art Leases and direct sales… Individual prices start at just $20 per month, including eco-friendly Green Art.”
  • Avelle, or BagBorrowSteal: Rent by the week, the month or for as long as you’d like top fashion brand names for jewelry, handbags, sunglasses, watches, etc. “There’s never a late fee.” You don’t have to be a member, but if you are, the prices are better.
  • Babyplays: A membership-based online toy rental site. About time kids’ closets stopped bursting with just-opened, barely used toys, no?
Craigslist, Olx and eBay are the leading internet plays on the circulation of second-hand goods (and services). With Craigslist and Olx, there is the local play as well.

Underpinning virtually all these structural changes in behaviour are (1) the internet and (2) sustainable development.

I wrote a while back about how inter-related I felt web 2.0 and sustainable development are (read here), and when you overlay the evident economic benefits, I can only reinforce how this crisis will accelerate the changes and how, coming out on the other end, we will all be that much more on the web, taking advantage of new behaviours and goods & services, indeed creating a kind of new ‘unpop’ eco-culture.

*Slow Food, a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization, was borne out of the anti-fast food movement in France in 1989 and is headquartered in Bra, Italy. Slow Food stands against “the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.” The organisation boasts over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

Roland Garros 2009 — Recycling of tennis balls

Tennis BallThis year, Roland Garros and the French Federation of Tennis (FFT) have launched a programme (“Operation Balle Jaune“) to recycle the used tennis balls as part of a Sustainable Development program.  There are 14 million balls sold every year in France and, according to a 2007 survey by Science & Vie, tennis is the fifth most polluting sport.  I was unable to find that survey, but I would love to know the top 4.

In any event, the idea is to collect the used tennis balls, grind them up and create a sort of spongy material….  With 59 grams of felt and rubber per ball, it takes 40,000 balls to create a 100m2 rubberised flooring (similar to the surface of a tartan track), very useful for handicap sports among others.

On top of the 14 million balls sold in France annually, there are also some 3-4 million cans (or tube containers) in France alone.  If I were to make a rough calculation (based on the number of balls per pop) for Europe, Australia/NZ and North America where the bulk of the world’s tennis takes place, that would mean that there are around 300 million tennis balls inserted into our western world; noting that 90% of the balls are produced in Asia (not the heart of tennis land).  In terms of weight, those 300 million balls represent around 20 million tonnes of longlasting rubber and felt in our landfills (including the tubes). 

In the USA, there is a company called Rebounces, founded by Bill Dirst, which has figured out how to “recharge” an used tennis ball.  Rebounces got a good plug in Oprah in the June 2009 issue.  According to Wikipedia, since 2001, “[the 36,000 tennis] Balls from The Championships, Wimbledon are now recycled to provide field homes for the nationally threatened harvest mouse.”  You can read about the original news story here on the BBC.

Meanwhile, doing a little research on the web, I have found a few other fun ways to use the used tennis balls, beyond the feet of chairs, etc.  Herewith a selection for your pleasure and inspiration.

A wrist watch.
Recycled tennis ball watch
A tennis ball chair
Recycled tennis ball chair
A tennis ball bench (a forty-love seat?)
 Recycled tennis ball bench decoration

In any event, I think it is a good initiative that the French Federation of Tennis has taken on.  May the balls bounce on a little longer!

Obama to bring bullet trains (TGV Shinkansen style) to USA

SNCF TGV Train a Grande Vitesse Bullet Train

There are plenty of surprising deficiencies in the US, it being the number 1 world power (still).  I have  written previously about the poor state of education (at the high school level) in the US and the insufficient medical coverage (despite the disproportionately high percentage of GDP spent on health care).  There is, of course, also the fact that the US energy policy is overly reliant on oil and carbon (for its electricity).  But, it is also true that, while the US road infrastructure is quite exceptional according to world standards, the US train infrastructure is quite the embarrassment, trailing way behind that of countries such as Japan (Shinkansen, pictured below left), France (TGV, pictured right above), Germany (ICE), Spain (AVE), and even South Korea and China.   US trains, many of which travel over long distances, basically trundle along today at speeds of 125 kmh (78 mph).  Only five trains in the States average more than 127 kmh (79 mph).  Even the fastest trains in the US only reach 132 kmh.  Fairly desperate, even if speed limits on the road are also remarkably low, too.

What I like about this initiative laid out by Obama this week is that it contains both economic and social sense.  Investing some paltry $8 billion of the $787 billion bailout, the notion of improving the US rail system to have trains hurtling down parallel lines at average speeds of well over 300 kilometres an hour (186 mph) is good (nay fantastic) for improved efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.  At the same time it is a good way to occupy (hire & train) American workers.  Unplugging traffic jams is just one part of the story.  Faster travel (from point A to point B) and, more importantly, an ability to work constructively while riding on the train must be no small addition to increased productivity.  And, as if I needed another argument, the bullet trains are certainly a lot more interesting to look at from a design angle.   These high-speed trains are just a lot sexier looking than the clunky, stub-nosed Amtrak or even Metroliner trains.   Here is the story as covered by USA Today (April 16).

Shinkansen Japan Bullet TrainThere are many hurdles to making the fast train project succeed: the continuing affection for cars, the poor service record of train service (Amtrak, for example, is quite poorly regarded), the fact that all the tracks would need not only to be widened but also straightened…  All the same, the project is the right one, for all the right reasons.  As long as the unions do not get a stranglehold on the jobs (and becoming a train driver does not mean being able to retire at the age of 52 as is in the case currently in France).  That means, also, that the system will need to figure out how to run on time, without exhorbitant cost.  The team evaluating the train system of the future for the US would be well advised to learn from the SNCF (http://www.voyages-sncf.com/) on how to run a CRM and fidelity program, too.  The last componenet of success (and lesson learned from the Japanese) will be the courtesy of passengers not to use their cell phones indiscrimately (and rudely) in the face of the surrounding passengers.

My only concern will be to see how effectively Government manages its funds.   Otherwise, I enthusiastically press on the “green” button.

All those in favour, say “ay”!  If not, give me your counter arguments.

Change Management – Cutting Dollars & Making Sense in Recession

Budget Cuts ScissorsIn these times of recession, a change is certainly gonna come… For the companies feeling the hit (not referring to Sam Cooke), there is plenty of talk of cutting budgets and payroll (though much less of the latter in France). In such environments, one speaks of light at the end of the tunnel with caution, especially if the gouging is severe. Speaking of light, sustainable development typically takes a less sustainable position in the hierarchy of expenses.

On the other end of the scale, there are those more fortunate companies that are planning major breakthroughs, profiting from a reservoir of cash and investing strategically and/or opportunistically to reap serious market share gains.

Then there are those companies flush in cash, investing strategically and that should also be taking the opportunity to eliminate dead wood.

As many managers cut dollars, it seems at times that as many are eliminating cents and plenty of good sense, too. Whether in a cash-strapped or cash-rich company, the need or opportunity to slash unproductive expenses, in my opinion, must be accompanied by two key actions in order to sustain an optimal customer satisfaction level throughout the downturn:

Clear Communication1) A clear, consistent and frequent (not necessarily regular) internal communication plan to keep everybody on board down the chain of management with the strategic thrusts and associated cuts. This assumes a clear vision. The visibility of [an aligned] top management is critical to communicate the vision, receive feedback (according to the company culture) and create unity of purpose.  When given the right resources, a well constructed internal intranet network (with web 2.0 functionality) is surely an interesting solution across a larger organisation — according to company culture.

2) And, in order to ensure optimal execution, there must be a culling of the unnecessary tasks and actions, often times associated with the prior, fatter budgets.  This is important to do in order that the remaining work and allocated resources are that much more effective.  The decision NOT to do is as strategic as what you decide to do.

Change ManagementThe first point above is about genuine leadership and getting the team behind you.  The second point revolves around the strategic execution of the plan.  These two actions are vital because, especially for the larger (older) businesses, at the heart of the issue is change management. As we all know, fear and psychology have generously contributed to the current predicament. And, going through the changes, employees at all levels experience fear (at one or other stage of the SARAH principle: Shock-Anger-Rejection-Acceptance-Hope/Healing/Help).  Consequently, they will start to act out of selfishness and defensiveness which inevitably creates breakdowns, inefficiencies and the dreaded internal politics.   Among the many typical faults made by top management are laying out a strategic plan, but not aligning expectations and creating too many exceptions.  Are the individual Goals & Objectives of the people in the different business units and functions updated and aligned?  Another common mistake is dogmatically and institutionally cutting budgets (by percentages) rather than involving the teams to find where and how to cut.  Getting the team to own the solution (strategy) means having them own the problem.

This line from Cooke’s song magically resumes the process of change management at the individual level:

“Oh, there been times when I thought I could not last for long, But now I think I’m able to carry on…”

Obamania Worldwide – The Dreams & The Reality

OBAMANIA & OTHER REFLECTIONS ON A SUNDAY MORNING

Barack & Michelle ObamaThe effect of the Obama victory overseas has been impressive. Much like the initial outpouring after September 11th, 2001, since November 5th, 2008, I have come across a newfound sense of support for the US from many different corners of the world, and the support is quite similar in intensity. For most foreigners with whom I speak, the sentiment goes along the lines: You, Americans (at least on the coasts), faced with the biggest worldwide economic crisis in a century, 2 long unfinished wars, an Osama Bin Laden still on the lam, the prospect of ecological disasters and the risk of more voter scandals (untested new urns), overcame the urge for a recidivist reactionary vote, to adopt and hail its base values by electing Obama.

What is driving this support around the world for Obama? In part, I detect an enormous feeling of hope, like the release of a good dream.Dream He represents hope that change is truly going to come. What is said can be done. That diversity is not just a buzz word. I also detect that many are putting their hopes on the shoulders of Americans to rebolster the world, a world that is increasingly rocky. Beyond the economic crisis and environmental concerns, the Western world is worried by the deeper, structural issues including the rise of China, the Russian renaissance, the continuing splintering of nationalities and ethnicities as well as the omen of global terrorism. I don’t mean to have visions of grandeur for the Americans, but we all need to dream and many people seem to have tied up their dreams with Obamania. Aside from the 66.7 million American voters, Muslim communities around the world, the African community (well beyond Kenya), even a town in Japan have identified or associated themselves with Obama. And in the “If the World Could Vote” site, 87.3% of the nearly 900,000 people (up from the 49,000 I wrote about in my September post) casting their online selection for Obama.

Few would doubt that Obama’s plate is eminently full. As a black Parisian radiologist, Maxim, said to me, “it is a poisoned gift.”

For Obama and the Americans, all the real work is now ahead and it will be important to observe (a) the level and effectiveness in the bipartisanship — I have been positively impressed by the effect of President Sarkozy had in bringing in several valuable Socialists into his government; and (b) how Obama manages against the oh-so-high expectations. If the Democratic party were to get a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (3 seats still undecided) and with the strong House representation (between 255-259 seats), there is a chance that Obama will be able to put through a good portion of his vision. But, what happens systematically — it seems no matter the president, the party or the country — is that there is a boomerang effect some 12-18 months after induction into office. The dissatisfied electorate then “punishes” the standing leader, curbs his or her power and the result is a near lame-duck experience for the remaining years. I have started to think that this is just a natural cycle in democracy. More likely than not, an external and/or unexpected event will likely occur that will unbalance the apple cart and, whether or not his policies have had time to work, will have a material impact on his presidency. It does seem ironic that an unexpected event will be likely. But, this, too, seems to be a part of the natural cycle.

Four More Reflections

As I ponder this Sunday morning, there are four more things I would like to say about the past couple of weeks.

China Flag1/ Don’t you find it symbolic that the Chinese bailout plan at $586B is just below the US one in size ($700B)? Although, compared to its GDP (China’s is estimated at US$3-4 trillion versus $14 trillion for the US), the Chinese effort is far more seismic. You get the feeling that the turning point is around the corner. The burgeoning question for me is how will we, Americans, manage to alter our mania for consumption, so much a fibre of today’s US society?


Speed Limit = 50 mph 2/ Forty’s are in. Obama, at 47 years old, joins a healthy stable of “forty-something” leaders. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the youngest I could find at 41 years old. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Sweden’s PM Fredrik Reinfeldt are 43. Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, Ireland’s Brian Cohen and Spain’s Jose Luis Zapatero are 48. Canada’s Stephen Harper is 49. I am sure that I have missed out a few others — but these are all (with the exception of Harper) leaders born in the 1960s. [Note, among other notables, that Sarkozy (53), Merkel (54), and Putin (56) are, with the majority of other leaders, in their 50s.]

3/ Seeing that Obama is a Web 2.0 President-elect (he has his own Twitter, MyBarackObama blog, YouTube, etc), how far can he be a Sustainable Development-President as well? See here for a prior post on the relatedness of web 2.0 and sustainable development. Certainly, this article by Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek
would seem to back up the possible correlation. ADDED 22 NOVEMBER: I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post. Obama communicated in a way that “spoke” to people. As the article writes, “Government under Mr. Obama, they believe, would value personal disclosure and transparency in the mode of social-networking sites. Teamwork would be in fashion, along with a strict meritocracy.”

4/ Did you realize that within two days of each other, Obama won the US Presidency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Paris Masters 2008 and was crowned #1 for France, while Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula 1 Champion? As both Hamilton and Tsonga are 23 1/2 years old, Obama at 47 is exactly double their age. And all three of them are métise (specifically a black father and a white mother). Rather remarkable, no?

Your thoughts?