Saturday, March 8, 2014

Chihuly’s lights

DSC03860 (1300x975)The Halcyon Gallery in London is hosting an exhibit of neon paintings and glass sculptures by Pacific Northwest artist Dale Chihuly.  He’s a ubiquitous presence on local public television, bustling about his studio creating organic constructions that twist and glow, later suspended above gardens and canals.  I think that I became jaded about his talent, his studio churning out bright bristle cones that imitate and compete with one another, his personality too brittle, his many minions too cowed.

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But in this studio setting, the works dazzle, complimenting one another in subtle forms and luminous variety, evoking ideas and feelings, heritage and culture.  It’s a remarkable exhibit, and well worth an hour’s visit if you are in the vicinity of  Bond Street.

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A number of other galleries lie within a few blocks, and on a warm afternoon a nice stroll yields a lot of exploratory and thoughtful works.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

What skills do you need for a startup?

DSC03810 (1300x975)I took the 4-hour train up to the University of Sheffield today, half of a two-man show debating post—graduate opportunities for the department's professional society.  What are employers looking for; how can you gain an edge?  was the remit: 15 minutes each, then Q&A to sort out our differences.

I left corporate life in 2009 for the glittering promise of entrepreneurship.  Sheff posterDo what you want; keep what you win:  Government agencies and free-market thinkers promote startups as the highest and purest form of capitalism, the fundamental engine of innovation, job growth, and social mobility.

The reality is, of course, much more difficult.  Capital is very difficult to raise: banks are risk-averse and angels appropriately selective.  Politics and personalities can derail the best technical and clinical plans.   It takes much more persistence and creativity to achieve success than I ever would have imagined.

So, how to convey the opportunity, contrast the life, for my audience?

I was helped somewhat by my corporate counterpart, who arrived with a slick slide set showing the years of profit and global reach of the 26,000 employees earning $15 billion each year. leadingTheir four attributes (Ambition, Accountability, Empathy and Courage) flanked by four leadership dimensions (Internal, external, self, and others) generated 16 core competencies that defined the personalities and behaviors that every employee should aspire to. It was every corporate HR presentation I had ever heard, down to the concluding Huxley quote: Experience is not what happens to a man, but what a man does with what happens to him.

I took another tack,  beginning by talking about the early hopes and achievements of my startup, showing pictures of my diverse and talented team of six, Coatthen describing the myriad ways that things slid sideways throughout 2013.  I paused with the image of an imperfect batch of coating dripping off of a sample, cash runway diminishing, the crucial experiment about to begin.

What qualities do you need to work in a startup, in a setting with so much opportunity, so little certainty?

Capable and independent

Initiative and honesty

Positive and constructive

Energy and drive

Flexible and adaptable

Accepts risk and change

More importantly, when you are interviewed by a startup, yowhat questions do u need to think about as you are evaluating them? 

Is the product concept simple?

Is the business model credible?

Is there enough cash?

Is the founder a pompous jerk?

Are the expectations realistic?

If you have both have the necessary qualities, then a startup can be a worthwhile place to be, an opportunity to contribute, learn, and succeed like nowhere else.

imageFinally, picking up the story, I recounted the recent past, how people came together and the critical experiment succeeded.

I remember a colleague who held that the breadth of one’s career was defined by the depth of their stories.  My four years in startups have given me great experiences, deep lessons, and changed me in many ways.   I always value the time to reflect on that and to discuss it in forums like this.

And, late into the night, we answered questions, shared wine and nibbles, and debated How Things Get Done.  After dinner and beers we may still not have been further towards answers about Corporate and Startups. 

But we really understood the differences.

And I like the team I was on, best.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Getting to know Parkstone

DSC03708 (1095x1300)It feels good to be back in Dorset, the sun sparkling on the harbour and the breeze stirring the firs along the cliffs.  Daffodils are emerging and birds are returning after the wild winds of winter.

It’s nice to be ‘home’.

I don’t enjoy moving.  It’s never fun to tear down and pack up my belongings; never a good feeling to start over with new people in a new place.  So this time, I minimized the physical move, staying within a community and among friends in Sandbanks, searching through the bottomless dross of available ‘lets until I found a situation that felt like a step forward.

My new houseshare is located in Lower Parkstone, the upper-crust part of town close by the very tony mansions cresting Penn Hill.  Woodside’s a nice street, lined with well-kept detached houses occupied by professional couples.  We’re  located a few blocks from the train station, equidistant between Tesco’s and DSC03788 (1300x962)Waitrose, a couple of miles from the Leisure Centre, and close to Penn Central,  a compact triangle of eclectic shops, cafes, and pubs.  It’s a comfortable space, spacious and tree-lined, more active than among the isolated blue-glass mansions set into forested lots in Canford Cliffs.

I share the house with two medical researchers from the Isle of Wight, using the house as a weekday layover to avoid commuting on the astronomically expensive ferry from the mainland, and a delightful couple from Poland.  Everyone’s work schedules dovetail so that nobody competes for bathroom or kitchen access in the morning, and the house seems to empty out on the weekends.  I’ve suggested that it’s a bit of an Amazing Race house: couples with special pre-existing relationships all learning to adapt and complete tasks in the exotic environs of Parkstone.

DSC03782 (1300x975)Still, its a bit further from the beaches and I miss sharing morning coffee when neighbors drop by, but the house is roomy and modern, clean and quiet, and I’ve been settling in well.  We’re all negotiating the shared items (cupboard spaces, hot water kettles, refrigerator shelves) and adding our bits to the community (I’ve contributed a drying rack, microwave, and printer).  We’ve sorted out the shared rules for recycling and laundry, and the back yard gardens show promise for the warmer weather ahead.

DSC03786 (1300x975)In all, its starting to feel like home and I’m learning how to fit my work and my day into the household.  But I’m also keeping a finger in with the realtors, watching for a waterside let on the Peninsula or along the Harbour.  I would love a balcony over a marina or to be within walking distance of the beach.

And its starting to feel possible again.  After a long climb back, the slope may finally be getting easier.

Or maybe I’m just finally getting stronger.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday’s links

DSC03755 (1300x963)‘back at Woodside 5 after a nice weekend in Cambridge.  LastMinute.com produced a deep discount at the University Arms on Parker’s Piece, a lovely old hotel with wood accents and Tiffany lighting, soft bed tucked at the top of a few steps up into the room, 20 year-old scotch in the evening and expansive breakfasts overlooking the green at sunrise.

I needed the break.  We’re still waiting for key lab results to arrive that will define the future of the business.  DSC03720 (1300x952)Preparations for the move are ongoing, but I’m finding that making reasonable decisions and good choices incrementally are perversely leading to bad outcomes.  Unexpected events involving people at work and in the US added to the worry. 

It all got to me more than I realized, making for worried days and sleepless nights all week. With the arrival of a sunny, cold weekend, it was nice to just relax in elegant surroundings and distract a little with others.  It gave me the chance to separate from work and Poole, to browse bookstores and colleges, to try a new Turkish restaurant, and to dream plans for my upcoming birthday celebration.

…and caught up with a few worthwhile expat links and readings:

  • Holland Expat Center South has a new guide to Maastricht and South Limburg that is worth checking out if you live in, or plan to visit, the area.
  • And a shout–out for Invader Stu, a fellow blogger who has been recognized as a finalist for this year’s Bloggie Weblog Award as Best European Blog.  He’s always fun and insightful to read, and worth DSC03718 (1300x949)your vote.
  • If you’re thinking about going expat later in life, the Times had some good thoughts on health insurance.  You should think carefully both about the quality of care available and the cost of your insurance policy: remember that a home policy that covers travel abroad may not cover care while living abroad (I was surprised to find that both my life and disability insurance plans had qualifiers that limited benefits if I was living overseas.
  • Heffers, a major academic bookstore in Cambridge, has completely reorganized their interior.  It’s much simpler, many fewer books. much less interesting to browse.  Most tellingly, shelves of weighty books have been replaced by kiosks of ‘simple guides’ to academic subjects, problems, life, and Great Ideas that feel like an affront to deep thought and genuine insight.  ‘especially in a place like Cambridge.

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  • If you’re expat, you travel; if you travel, you pile up the frequent flier points.  The programs are getting tougher though: Delta has instituted spending requirements alongside mileage thresholds for top-tier qualification.  Lounge acc3ess costs over $600 per year, double what it cost a couple ofDSC03756 (1300x973) years ago.  It may be time to reconsider costs and benefits, advises the Times.
  • The Artique Gallery in central Cambridge is opening their spring show with seascape painter Rebecca Lardner.  Interesting individually, her seaside villages and round-eyed animals become repetitive and kitsch when multiplied into a wallpaper of near-identical images.  This holds for almost every artist exhibited in the gallery, unfortunately.

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  • Alec Baldwin recorded a really good interview with Billy Joel, including a discussion of whether marriages are more likely to fail when one partner is immersed in creative work.  Is there enough, indeed anything, left to give to the relationship?  It’s a recurring question (see Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George”) that I think poses real issues for even the most committed couples.  That’s why it was also nice to read Katy Guest’s thoughts in the Independent about the value of simply being kind to one another.
  • 14523_10151903059016526_2057089385_nFinally, in the ‘too true’'; category, this is, indeed, what the world seems to be coming to.   Java programming may be the new ‘Language of Life’, just like ‘Her’ might be the vision of future relationships.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sunset at Sonning Bridge

DSC03764 Stitch (2000x691)Established as a timber bridge over the Thames in 1100, the current brick-arch Sonning Bridge opened in 1775.  As old, then, as the United States, the single lane structure is as intolerant of trucks and commuters as it is beloved by artists and photographers.  I’ve come to appreciate its low arch, the bed of willow trees and canal boats attending it, and the hamlet of Sonning Eye, the French Horn restaurant, and The Mill dinner theater nearby.

Sonning Bridge low DSC03777 (1300x946)

Rising waters closed the bridge for most of February, the wettest on record for Berkshire, forcing me to go through downtown Reading every time I tried to take the shortcut through Sonning.  Returning from Cambridge this evening, though, I found the route re-opened, the evening light highlighting trees against the swirling gunmetal waters.

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It was peaceful: huddled swans alongside the submerged trees, an icy breeze riffling the river, just the quietest gurgle of water through the trailing willow branches.   A good opportunity for a walk and a few photos, sunset against the Thames.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Carnivale weekend

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A quick shout-out to all of my friends celebrating Carnivale in Maastricht for the next few days.  I have to be in Cambridge for business throughout, but I’ll be there in spirit – let me know where the photos are being posted?

I’ll miss joining in the music, the parades, the colour and the costumes, but next year, I’ll do it right!  ‘hope it’s a wonderful celebration!