Sunday, April 24, 2005

Checking in, being checked out

The reception desk at the National Hotel in Moscow is at the end of a long, narrow room. Getting there is a long walk, being watched by the receptionist all the way. I defer my gaze, feeling like a supplicant.

In American hotels, the desk is wide and embracing, and the space in front of it is shallow. You reach the desk rapidly, and you’re in control of the approach. You can almost pounce on the receptionist before they see you coming.

A long walk up, under scrutiny; a short walk to a wide welcome. Space, time, gaze: a primer in establishing who’s in control.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Car color

S. and I were discussing why most cars are such boring colors. She pointed out that most people buy cars off the lot, and thus most cars will be a muted color that offends few.

My theory was that buyers worry about resale - a car with a distinctive color will be hard to sell on. This is not a very good explanation at face value; I doubt that most people think about resale when they're buying a vehicle. On the other hand, since most cars are leased, the lessors - the dealers - do worry about this. This brings us back to S.'s explanation, since they (and the manufacturers) determine the specs for the cars on the lot.

One implication of S.'s theory is that we'll see more diverse colors as more people buy cars online, or otherwise specify precisely what they want rather than buy on impulse. The color of one's car is a great way to express individuality. One can already see that cars sold in this way, like the new Bug and Mini, have much more interesting colors than the muted livery of most other marques.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Excuse me - I have to ignore you for a while

Here’s a pointed description of one introvert:

"You don’t like having people around, including yourself.”
Not all introverts dislike themselves. For a wonderfully amusing and insightful take on introversion, read Jonathan Rauch’s Atlantic Monthly piece, Caring for your Introvert

For example:

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay — in small doses."
There is some debate on the importance of the introversion/extraversion distinction, though it’s one of the Big Five personality dimensions. Keirsey prefers to talk about Reserved vs Expressive people, but uses similar terms:

Expressive persons appear to be energized, charged up, by contact with other people. Owing to the surge they get when in company, they are quick to approach others, even strangers, and talk to them, finding this an easy and pleasant thing to do, and something they don't want to do without. Such interaction apparently charges their batteries and makes them feel alive. […] On the other hand, Reserved persons can be said to draw energy from a different source. They prefer to pursue solitary activities, working quietly alone with their favored project or hobby, however simple or complicated it may be, and such isolated activities are what seem to charge their batteries. Indeed, the Reserved can remain only so long in contact with others before their energies are depleted.
He closes his comment with an observation that rings true for me:

There is some social bias toward expressiveness in American social life, but Reserved persons have no reason to feel that there is anything wrong with them, and should be sure to provide adequately for their legitimate desire for quiet time to themselves.
The interesting development is that New Scientist reports that the Big Five (conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion) may not be set in stone. One research team has found, for example, that openness decreases with age, and agreeableness improves.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Seeing the Setting

I’ve often bemoaned the fact that so many meetings are held in windowless conference rooms in the bowels of beautiful hotels in exotic settings. What a waste! One might as well meet at the Airport Holiday Inn – or so I thought.

Having just spent a week like this, I realized that the locale can make a huge difference, particularly if I consciously see the setting. One doesn’t need to spend hours amidst beauty for it to rejuvenate the spirits; a few seconds will do. I simply haven’t been mindful enough to take in what I was seeing.

Even if I hadn’t been conscious of it, I suspect that nice setting have a positive subliminal effect. If these meetings had all been held at the Airport Hotel, people’s spirits would have been subdued. The work would’ve been done, but without the spark of happiness.

I’ve resolved to try to see the places I’m in more clearly, and to take pleasure from them. It’s surprisingly hard to do; my mind is so well-trained to pattern-match to the task at hand (like finding the bathroom, dashing to the room to do email, or making small-talk with other participants) that this is all I observe – and I miss wonder of the world.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Deciding vs. Doing

A passing comment has led me to this conclusion: the ability to make decisions is often distinct from the ability to execute.

"Ability" here is meant primarily in organizational rather than personal terms. While some individuals may have a preference one way or another, the situation they find themselves in seems to influence their ability to do both simultaneously. In a reasonably contained organization, eg a small business, the chief executive needs to be able to make decisions and execute on them; there isn't an alternative.

As organizational complexity increases, executives are increasingly channeled into one modality vs. another. Some leaders make the hard trade-offs that lead to a vision and strategy. Others are more focused on execution; though such work in itself requires endless hard decisions to be taken, I distinguish those from the strategic decisions that shape an organization's future.

Friday, April 01, 2005

You might be a geek if...

This one from S.

You decide that your co-worker's whiteboard needs a rainbow drawn on it.

You select those colors from the available whiteboard pens that appear
in the rainbow and order them according to the spectrum.

You can't remember for sure whether the red is on the inside or the outside of the
rainbow, so give up on the project in preference to getting it wrong.
This is why geeks have the reputation of not being romantic, even when it's spring and the sap is rising...