WHAT YOUR PARENTS DON’T TELL YOU

My parents taught me many things about life.

They taught me the difference between right and wrong, between good and bad, to look both ways when crossing the road, to respect my elders, to not lie, cheat or thieve and to respect all life.
However, there were some critical elements of life that not only did they not include in the curriculum, but when they did, that they actually misled me about.
Here are just a few.

World leaders have as little real understanding of what it takes to run anything as do normal people

I have no belief in the ability of world leaders to do any better in running a country or an economy than most people have in running their own household budgets. Beyond getting themselves elected, politicians tend to rely totally on the goodness of the fates for their successes, when they have them. Whether they are left, right or middle of the road, their policies generally effect minimal change other than their control over our levels of taxation for the term of their appointment, and do very little to benefit their constituents.

Doctors do not sit at the right hand of god and medicine is not an exact science

At the age of 44 I was given a 50/50 chance of surviving a year due to a battle with colon cancer. I was told that it was mandatory that I follow up my surgery with a course of chemotherapy which, after pushing my surgeon for a dose of reality, I discovered at that time had only about a 3% success rate. I had a young relative who was told that he just had a bad flu who was dead 6 weeks after the first diagnosis. My parents believed that doctors could never be wrong and would do whatever their GP said to the letter. At the age of 60 my father found out that he had a stomach ulcer. Our GP told him that he needed to eat bland food so for the next 26 years my father lived on boiled chicken as his only protein intake… his doctor had spoken. Doctors are generally well trained and well prepared for their roles, but their error rate is no different from the rest of the population.

Author: Angelus (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


Bank managers should not be revered

My parents believed that their bank manager warranted a level of esteem (and fear) that was exceeded only by their GP. If they needed something from the bank, they would dress in their Sunday best and go cap in hand to beg for his largesse. I acted in exactly the same way with my first 2 loans, despite the fact that what I was looking for was only about 30% of the property value. It took me a while to realise that lending me money was why they existed. I learned to get multiple banks to bid for my business, and was delighted to learn that they could actually add some hitherto undisclosed incentives to win it. My first banking epiphany came to me when I realised that it was never the smartest kids in my school who became bankers.

Author: A1 Aardvark; via Wikimedia Commons


In the same way that your parents never understood you, you will also never understand your children

My parents didn’t understand anything much about my life. Not my sense of dress (as a rocker in the 1950s this involved black stovepipe trousers, red shirt and black sweater), my Elvis-pretend haircut, my music (increasingly dominated by the rolling stones), my friends nor my choice of career. The balance is that I have as little understanding of my own daughters who are both seriously conservative and more like my parents in attitude than they are to us. We are a dysfunctional family as it is the parents who ran away from home, rather than the kids doing so, as was the norm with my generation. The generation gap is only a question of cycle.

As much as you believe in free will, you are just the sum of your prejudices

Being central Europeans my parents filled me with their truisms of life, such as Germans are aggressive, Americans are obsessed with money, French are lazy, Italians are sex-crazed, English never wash, Russians are drunks, Jugoslavs are crazy and Gypsies are thieves (see “Let’s ridicule our neighbours more” posted May 2, 2011). I now, at an age approaching 70, having worked closely with all nationalities and having lived in many of the countries mentioned above, can finally at least honestly say that after having spent the last 20 years of my career working for/with SAP, I have finally overcome the first prejudice about Germans. I am still working on the others.

Relationships are harder to understand than the cosmos

Stephen Hawking may understand the cosmos, but he also understands that the biggest black hole in his almost limitless knowledge is his understanding of women. My parents had an arranged marriage that lasted over 50 years, and had a belief that all marriages were like this so could not understand why my first one ended after 8 years. Today the use by date on yoghurts is longer than most marriages. Relationships are significantly more complex to comprehend than the Big Bang Theory.

Money doesn’t buy you happiness but it does buy you choices

My parents brought me up to believe that beyond what was needed to stay alive, have a roof over your head and educate your children, money was unimportant and that money did not buy you happiness. I know quite a few wealthy people who are miserable, and even some who committed suicide, so at least my parents were right about the happiness piece of the advice. But money is important, as having some money available over and above the ability to meet life’s necessities, does give one choices in life that basic income earners never have the luxury of making. Those who are lucky enough to have earned this privilege in life should understand and treat it with respect.

Author: Luis Javier Modino Martinez; via Wikimedia Commons


As said by author Mitch Albom “All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers.”

Author: Vincent Wagner (Shack); via Wikimedia Commons


Advertisements

VIVE LE FRENCH FOOD

You never know how many friends you have until you buy a chateau in France.

With summer almost upon us, we are girding our loins for the usual influx of visitors. France is a favourite destination for millions of holiday makers from around the world, whether it’s the Dutch in their caravans, the Germans covering themselves only with oil and then covering all the beaches, the English heading for their second homes in the Dordogne or the Antipodeans trying to escape their winters and looking for free accommodation with their “mates”, often “incredibly close friends” that they haven’t spoken to in over 20 years.

“Time just passes so quickly … is it really 20 years ?”

But they are all, apart from the Dutch, mainly here for the French food. The Dutch are different from the other visitors to France as they are here to clog up the roads, and tend to bring all their food with them so that they don’t actually have to spend any money while they are in the country.

French cuisine is amongst the best in the world, though one does have to be very selective, as the days when the majority of restaurants in France actually had a well trained chef are fast declining (see “Vive le French cuisine” posted May 23, 2011).

Great French cooking is all about wonderful sauces, spectacular desserts and artistic presentation, but it is also about not wasting any part of the pig, or whatever animal has been sacrificed for the plate. Most visitors have by now heard of the French love for frog’s legs, snails and foiegras, though often with the mistaken belief that these make up a large part of our diet, rather than being an occasional delicacy.

Many visitors to France are surprised to learn that the most common and most popular meal in France (other than a Grand Mac et Coca) is steak and chips, though because the French do not believe in ageing their beef, this can be an interesting exercise in testing tooth strength. Despite this penchant for what would generally be considered an American meal choice, there are some unusual dishes that are more typically French and that first time visitors to France may need to be aware of before they decide to choose their meal in a restaurant using the “blindfold and pin” method of selection when faced with a menu that they do not understand.

Here are a few to test your culinary courage:

Andouilette is a sausage made of pig’s intestine with a distinctive taste and smell of faeces, making it the French equivalent of the Malaysian Durian. Andouilette is graded from A to AAAAA, being how much time has been allowed for a hose to wash the intestine out before cooking it. At just a single A rating, the intestine has been shown the hose but it has not actually been turned on, and every subsequent A in the rating seems to be equivalent to about 1 second of cleansing, but this will vary greatly based on available regional water pressures. The only way to eat this is in response to a dare involving a large amount of money andwhen you have a bad head cold. You should also never order Andouilette that has a lower A rating than France’s economy at the time, which according to Standard and Poor’s, is declining annually.

Tete de Veau is the face of a baby calf with the skin, hair and fat removed, as the taste is said to be revolting if this is not done properly (go figure), so if you are really desperate to pass as a local, you should only try this dish in a 3 star Michelin restaurant where the chef will have the skill to rip the face off the bone, wrap it around a tongue, prepare it in bouillon and then serve it garnished with the brains (and often with the ears) with a caper and vinegar sauce. As it is actually hard to find free available calves’ heads you should generally order this well ahead of time, allowing about 2 years, which will also give you enough time to rethink.

By Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0; via Wikimedia Commons


Tripe is not just a French dish as one can also find tripe and onions in the UK, which is not necessarily a recommendation. Tripe Lyonnais however is very French and is quite unusual in that Lyon is considered a wonderful culinary centre, so I have no understanding why they would lay claim to a dish that tastes like wallpaper paste, and if boiled long enough could actually be used as such. Tripe is the stomach lining of animals, generally beef, sheep or even goats at a push, which has been bleached and partially cooked by the time it gets to the consumer. If you wish to cook it in your holiday cottage, it should be well washed again, and then boiled for at least 4 hours or until tender, which will give you an immediate idea as to how good a meat it is to start with. You will need to sauté some onions the entire time that the tripe is boiling just to hide the smell, and then combine the onions with the boiled tripe after it has been sautéed in butter for 20 minutes, andadd some vinegar. Remember to garnish with parsley to make it even more delectable.

By Lissen; via Wikimedia Commons


Coeurs de canard en brochette are duck hearts on a stick. I have always believed that “meat on a stick” is an area that has been largely overlooked as a true culinary fast-food takeaway, which could compete directly with “Le Colonel” and “Macdo’s”, as many French foods are well suited to potential stick-dom. I see a huge potential market for finger-licking delicacies such as “Rocky Montagne Huitres en brochette” and “Yeaux de Cochons en brochette”.

Author: Roman Bonnefoy (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


As Lucretius, Roman poet and philosopher (95-55 BC) said “What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others”, and he had never even been to Australia and tasted witchetty grubs.

By User:Sputnikcccp; via Wikimedia Commons


WE NEED GEEKS NOT GREEKS

“I would love to change the world, but they won’t give me the source code”.

I have had 5 weeks skiing this season in Switzerland, Austria and the US. In Europe it was one of the best seasons that we have had in over 30 years.

When we were in Verbier across Xmas we had an interesting encounter in a gondola one morning with three young Greeks who were there for a two week vacation. We were chatting about how Greece was disintegrating, and how they were putting the whole Eurozone at risk. They proceeded to tell us how tough it was in Greece at the moment, and when I questioned them about the whole “sport” of tax evasion in Greece, one of them laughed and candidly stated that if he had to actually pay the taxes that he should have done, he certainly would not be able to take a two week holiday in an expensive Swiss ski resort.

Author: Roland Zumbühl, Arlesheim; via Wikimedia Commons


It took all my strength to stop my wife from strangling him and throwing his lifeless body out of the gondola to at least add some value from a Greek to the European ecosystem as carrion fodder.

When we then suggested that in fact, as we were people whodid pay our taxes, we were actually paying for his vacation, all he could muster was a stupid grin. If we had not then arrived at the top of the mountain I have no question that he would have ended up with one of my ski poles embedded in his heart, and I would now be in prison somewhere, serving a sentence for justifiable homicide.

I have long believed that we should not waste our money on the Greeks (see “It’s all Greek to me” posted June 20, 2011) when they actually have no desire, nor ability, nor concern about ever paying us back … ever ?

Author: Ggia (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


If we have 200 billion euro to spare, surely we could find some better ways to use the money than just by supporting the lifestyles of people who have absolutely no intent of cutting back on anything, and particularly on giving up pay and benefits that are far beyond the rest of the Eurozone countries, butwho expect the rest of Europe to keep subsidising them so they don’t actually have to change anything about themselves, in particular actually giving the Greek government the recently re-estimated € 70 billion in annual tax evasion (see “God save the Euro” posted December 6, 2010).

So if we are not going to give it to the Greeks, where could we better put our money ?

When I started playing with computers in 1965 my first “beast” was an Elliot 803 manufactured by a British company Elliot Brothers. They merged with English Electric in 1966 and were than taken over by ICT in 1968 to become International Computers Ltd (ICL), supported by the UK Government who then believed that the UK needed a strong national computer company. ICL survived until 2002 when it was taken by the Japanese company Fujitsu, when all the members of the British government were busy attending the funeral of the Queen Mother.

Author: HendrikHAM; via Wikimedia Commons


Actually in the latter half of the 20th century Europe had a reasonably viable hi-tech industry, including some serious software players like SAP, Business Objects (1990-2007), Baan (1978-2003), Sage and Intentia (1984-2006), just to pick out a handful.

The only global players left in this list today are SAP and Sage, and the latter is struggling.

Our Hi-tech industry has all but disappeared, and we are now dependant mainly on the US for our technology.

There are however thousands of small start-ups all round Europe who are creative, innovative and promising, but who find it hard to get funding without giving their companies away to the VCs, nor to organically gather the money needed to take their products to the world, rather than just remaining a small regionally localised player.

Author: Wikimania2009, via Wikimedia Commons


We have actually so far committed to give Greece over € 200 billion, that is 200 thousand million.
The majority of small “proven” hi-tech start-ups would be thrilled to be given a € 1 million loan from a caring government agency and it would make a massive difference to their ability to actually get over the initial business hurdles, such as globalising their product and helping them go to market.

We wouldn’t even have needed to spend the full € 200 billion that we have spent on Greece.
If the other 16 countries in the Eurozone had just left Greece to fix their own extravagances and had chosen even as many as 1,000 small companies each to help out, the total cost would only have been 16,000 million, a mere spit in the ocean compared to what we have already given Greece, without even considering how much more it will take to keep supporting a country that has no intent in driving their own recovery, just to keep it in the Eurozone.
Not only would this be a way to try to revive and revitalise the European technology sector but would go a long way towards creating badly needed jobs particularly amongst the young, where the worst unemployment exists.
Even if only a tenth of these 16,000 Geek-driven companies were actually successful and were able to pay back their loans, it would still be a significantly less risky investment than giving money to Greece.

So why give more money to the Greeks, when we should be giving it to the Geeks instead ?

After all, there are 10 types of people in the world, those that understand binary and those who don’t.

Author: Cjangaritas (own work); via Wikimedia Commons


WHAT THEY DON’T TEACH YOU ABOUT PEOPLE

Business schools may be great at teaching people how to read a balance sheet, calculate net present value, internal rate of return and discounted cash flow, but they do not seem to do a great job at teaching future “masters of the universe” that management is really all about people.

Author: HBS1908; via Wikimedia Commons


Unless they will end up working for someone like Goldman Sachs, students will spend significantly more time analysing balance sheets during their business studies than they are likely to do in an entire career spanning 30-40 years in the business world. However, no matter which industry they end up in, and whatever management role, position or level they achieve they will never have learned enough about why intelligent, well educated people can act in ways that are illogical, frustrating and totally incomprehensible to their supervisors. Those challenges will only hit them in the real world.

via Wikimedia Commons


Here are some things that they should have learned to give them a faster start to successfully coping with the art of managing people.

1. What isn’t measured rarely gets done

Even if you have great people working for you, people will rarely stick to a task if it doesn’t get regularly scrutinised and measured. I am amazed at how many times I have seen a manager hand out the responsibility of a task to someone without setting down the criteria by which the results will be measured, a completion date and also a schedule for review. It’s not that people are generally lazy or not committed, but good people are generally very busy, and the urgent will take priority over those things that appear to be less so, and anything not measured will always drop to the bottom of the pile.

2. If someone doesn’t personally own a project it is unlikely to succeed

All projects need a champion to have any chance of success. Not just someone whose career is on the line based on its success, but also someone who has the ability and authority to pull in the resources and to take decisions that are needed to bring the project to a successful conclusion. I have sat through management meetings that kick off projects that are seemingly owned collectively by the management team. This helps but is not enough. There must be one person who is held responsible for the successful outcome.

3. You can’t manage behaviour through annual performance reviews

Not even through quarterly ones. Waiting until a formal performance review to address unacceptable behaviour or even good performance doesn’t work well. To effectively manage behaviour, both positive and negative, it needs to be as soon as possible after the action. Too many managers wait until the scheduled formal performance review to tell an underperformer that they have a problem, by which time it is likely that the behaviour which resulted in the poor performance has become even more ingrained. Every single interaction with an employee at even an hourly rate gives the manager an opportunity to reinforce required behaviour.

4. No matter what you say, and how often you say it, your people will interpret, copy and act based on your real attitudes and behaviour

I have come across CEOs who never stop talking about how their customers are the their #1 priority, and that they are committed to customer service excellence, or even customer delight, but who will never take calls from customers nor meet with customers on a regular basis (see “The 3 great business lies” posted August 2, 2010). People in the organisation will build their own attitudes and behaviours based on what they observe in those at the top, irrespective of how much they talk about the subject. Actions do definitely speak louder than words.

5. You must be specific about what you want done

A manager cannot just throw out a multitude of ideas that he carries around in his head as a stream of consciousness, and assume that people will understand what it is that he actually considers important. I worked for one company where one of the founders has one of the greatest minds that the technology sector has spawned, and which never stopped working. He had thousands of ideas at any time, and would share these with people whenever he visited a company site. When he would subsequently return there 6 or 12 months later, he would be amazed that quite often people had translated some of these thoughts into a real project, when all he was doing was sharing ideas. If you want something done then assign someone to the task and tell them specifically what you want. For the rest, make sure that people understand that you are just sharing thoughts and ideas.

6. Meetings are generally the worst way toget something done

Other than meetings being ok when you want to give a specific group of people some common information, they are mostly a waste of time and energy (see “Meetings bloody meetings” posted on 18th April, 2011). JK Galbraith had it right when he said “Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything”.

via WIkimedia Commons; LSE Fotostream


Managers are paid to make decisions, so trying to pass the decision process on to a committee defeats the whole management purpose. Work with those around you whilst accepting all input needed to call the shots, then work with those that you have selected, and tasked, to bring the decision to a successful conclusion.

In the words of Warren Buffet “The business schools reward difficult complex behaviour more than simple behaviour, but simple behaviour is more effective”.

I would change this slightly to “The business schools reward difficult complex analytical behaviour, when the ability to understand people is more effective for successful management.”