Tag Archives: change

Home is where the flowers are … and the wine

18 Oct

So much has happened since the last blog post, it’s hard to know what to cover. Let’s hit the highlights – I now live in Amsterdam. As a somewhat politically incorrect German colleague noted, I’ve moved “from the colonies to the motherland”.

What’s been the most interesting about moving to Amsterdam is how quickly I’ve begun to feel at home. Part of it was the ability to move directly into the flat where I’ll spend the next year. Another was being able to walk almost everywhere, so I quickly got a grasp of the neighbourhood up close. But the real excitement has been the block-by-block discovery of the streets around the flat, which led me to the neighbourhood flower shop.

Now there are undoubtedly lots of flower shops around the city. There are probably several within a mile of the house. But my flower shop is on a side street, in a converted garage with a permanently damp concrete floor, and a walk-in chiller filled with the most amazing roses, tulips, chrysanthemums, and this week, golden oak leaves and the last hydrangeas of the season.

Turns out feeling at home isn’t necessarily about having all your stuff around you, or knowing your neighbours, or having lived there forever. For me, it’s really about the special moment when you can mentally call up a picture of your space, and realise that there is no place you would rather be at the end of a long week, a long flight, or a long day. It’s the place where you want to have a glass of wine, make a nice meal, and just be. It’s the place where you know you will spend more time than usual, enough that buying flowers doesn’t seem like an over-the-top extravagance, but the most logical thing in the world.

Welcome home to me. It’s nice to be here.

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Backwards and forwards

16 Apr

That first line is always the hardest. It’s like that chore you just don’t want to do – your mind looks at it, and then invariably skitters away to something easier to tackle, or simply as an alternative thing to do (like checking Facebook for the umpteenth time!). But, dear reader, you will be pleased to note that I have made it – made it back into the blogosphere!

So what’s been happening? Let’s indulge in a quick catch-up – studied super-hard all term,worked to develop a marketing plan for a social enterprise to combine education, financial literacy and football, wrapped up exams, watched Oxford dominate in the Boat Race, and did some quality traveling. I totally get that I’ve condensed 3 months into a short paragraph, but more on those things in later posts. After all, that’s the looking backwards part.

Looking forward is actually way more fun. With a just under 2 weeks before the new term starts, it’s interesting to think about what happens next, now that we’ve passed the half-way point in the program. The big thing on many people’s minds is finding that perfect post-MBA job opportunity. Some are already enjoying the pleasure of having offers in hand, while others are going through interviews and preparations in order to land that perfect spot.  Still others are gearing up to launch their own ventures, supported by investors hoping to get in on the next big thing. In one way or another, people are getting ready for the next phase.

In the spirit of looking ahead, it’s also impossible to ignore the metaphor provided by nature – spring has sprung! Cherry blossoms, tulips, casting off winter layers and warming temperatures are just some of the signs.

Oh wait, one more sign of spring – federal elections in Canada! The third in just over 5 years, maybe this time it will actually be about something? One sure way to make elections matter is to vote in them. Lots of people have been doing all kinds of things to encourage people to vote, so here’s my two pence – VOTE!

On that note, I’ll take my leave. Here’s looking forward to you!

A structured rant

2 Feb

About two month ago I attended my first Ignite session.  Well, it was loosely based on the Ignite concept, which is now a global event where hundreds of people in several cities pitch ideas to thousands of their neighbours.  We were doing it on a much smaller scale, getting together with about 50 classmates to share entrepreneurial ideas or concepts they were interested in working on as part of an entrepreneurship project this term.

One of the organizers suggested that a great idea might arise from something that you were passionate about, or better yet, that makes you mad. Something that just bugs you, and might for example, cause you to start a somewhat obscure WordPress blog, as an alternative to yelling at the radio!

Although I highly recommend the cathartic effect of blogging, it might be argued that doing something to pound on, um… I mean work on, the thing that makes you mad might be somewhat more rewarding.  And since I’ve been practicing structured approaches to problem solving, I thought it would be appropriate to make a list of some of those things that have really been getting on my nerves:

  1. Mis-pricing – blame it on my first brush with economics last term. As the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! But it really bugs me that chronic mis-pricing of resources, and therefore the things those resources are used for, means that we have ended up not valuing things appropriately.  We need better ways of measuring those so-called “externalities” that traditional accounting systems have been unable to tackle.  We won’t have any incentive to manage resources differently until we are paying our way.
  2. Using old ways to solve new problems – enough of this! Doesn’t it make the tiniest bit of sense that new problems need new ways of thinking and responding? I am happy to acknowledge that there are lots of people in the world who get this. Sadly, it sometimes seems that only a few of them are actually in a position to do something about it.
  3. Climate change nay-sayers – I know, I know, I have a bias – but this is my list! Get off this bandwagon, seriously! Do you honestly believe that 7 billion people, and all the development that about a third of them are doing, will have no impact on our planet’s climate and ecosystems? Ever?

So these are my top three. It’s been really helpful to think about these things, particularly at this point in time, when I’m thinking about the rest of the MBA program still to come, and mapping out what I’d like to do post-MBA.

One final note. There is one more thing that made me mad (and not a little sad) as I’ve watched the ever-changing news coming out of the Middle East recently. I don’t know much about the history of the situations that have led to the events of the past several weeks, but it completely floored me to think that one young man thought his only option was to take himself out of the game by setting himself on fire on a street in Tunisia. It makes you wonder how many more people are on the brink of such desperation, whether in the Middle East, or somewhere much closer to home.

So, what makes you mad? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?

Rethinking business

12 Nov

It’s absolutely unbelievable that the previous post is dated October 6th! If I didn’t know better I’d say some blog-bug hacked in and changed the date.  But it’s probably fair to say things have been a little bit hectic!  As I hinted in my last post, the beginning of term has been a storm, characterised by a whirlwind of assignments, group projects, careers events, guest lectures, MBA class elections and more! And that’s just the weekdays!

Despite the controlled insanity, it’s been very interesting to reflect in some quieter moments with a few classmates on how the things we are being taught really could play out in the real world.  One emerging theme is the concept of “rethinking business”.  What is a business for? This question came up in our first week of classes in just about every course.  Some of the concepts hinted at the traditional – to make money, to create and capture value, to innovate – but others also acknowledged a broader sense of purpose – to do all those things with an eye on the big picture of society.

I’ve been very fortunate in the past several weeks to attend events with an incredible list of speakers, two of whom resonated deeply with me personally by capturing different facets of this concept of greater responsibility.  The first was Stephen Green, the chairman of HSBC Holdings plc, speaking at the first Pears Business School Partnership lecture.  You can read more about the event here, but the key takeaway for me was his assertion that companies must transition from treating corporate social responsibility as a solely philanthropic or “do good PR” issue to using it as a core business strategy tool that selects investments in social and environment issues as a component of a successful business model.

The second speaker was Bob Dudley, the newly appointed CEO of BP.  The Confederation of British Industry’s Annual Conference was the location for Mr. Dudley’s first public appearance since taking office on October 1, 2010.  While much of his discussion centred around the in-depth internal analysis and stock-taking within the organization following the Gulf oil spill, he also clearly acknowledged that BP has had to completely rethink its role as a business, and is working on forging a very different relationship with areas like the Gulf where it does business.  Regular readers will know that I’ve written more than once about BP, and I still believe those opinions were founded and appropriate for the time.  Time will tell whether BP actually is able to achieve their objectives under Mr. Dudley’s leadership, but I will say that his personal commitment through his speech is not in doubt.  We can only hope that the new BP that emerges from this disaster will continue to be fully engaged in its broader responsibility as a global company.

So what is a business for? No doubt this will be a central theme revisted in posts to come, but I can say that we are working on defining this for ourselves in a way that centrally integrates the idea that perhaps a better question may turn out to be “Who is a business for?”

Ready to change how we think

28 Sep

Going to business school is a personal decision, based on all kinds of things.  What you do now, what you’d like to do next, what new ideas you have, how interested in business you are, and a host of other factors that shape your thinking through the application and acceptance process.  Notwithstanding this very personal vision, many of the experiences my classmates and I have shared so far have been somewhat “broad strokes”, touching on the traditional areas and sectors that the “typical” business school student is likely to be interested in.

But what if you are not typical? Clearly we all like to think of ourselves as unique, and to some extent we all are. But equally, in a business school setting, there are going to be several people who delight in the idea of 12-hour work days as investment bankers, thrive on the excitement of the trading floor, and leap out of bed at the thought of complex financial modelling.  I’m not one of them, I’ve realised, but figuring out what I don’t want to do early on is a good thing, I think.

What I really want to do is change the way we think about stuff and the people and companies who make it, sell it, use it and deal with it when we’re done.  I’ve written about stuff as a consumer and as an owner, and realised since moving into a small student bedroom that living with less stuff is not only possible, but kind of peaceful.  I’ve been practising my “elevator pitch” to my classmates, and researching companies, organizations and people who already seem to be thinking about stuff differently.

Now, it’s early days on the research front, but I thought I’d share some cool things I’ve found so far.  Some of these may be familiar, while others may spark some new interest.

  1. Look to your right, over there in the side bar.  Click on The Story of Stuff and see with Annie has to say about things.
  2. Check out this blog post by Joel Makower, the founder of Greenbiz.com, and a “guru of green” I think has some neat things to say.  The book he recommends is now officially on my list.
  3. While you’re browsing through the blog roll, stop on by The Clean Bin Project, which chronicles the great things Jenny and Grant did and learned in living “waste free” for a year. I was lucky to meet these two about a week before they took off on a cross-Canada bike tour this summer, and they are doing something special.

So here’s what I’m ready to test through business school, and hopefully get some of the best brains I know (my classmates!) to think through this with me:

  • How do we make better stuff? The kind that’s good for the environment, and for people, and for the companies that make them?
  • Is a stuff vs. services conversation something we’re ready to have? And who should we have it with?
  • How much, and what kind of stuff, is “enough” in a finite world, a closed system with limits on all kinds of resources?

You probably have ideas about your stuff too. Let me know what you think – say it out loud.

8 new things before breakfast

20 Sep

Well, I made it! Oxford is now home for th next year. There’s more things to blog about than you can imagine, but here’s just a taste from the first 24 hours. It’s my 8 new things before breakfast:

  1. Luggage trolleys with brakes! This was a fabulous discovery at Heathrow as I headed down a steep ramp to the underground walkway to catch the bus to Oxford. Turns out brakes are far more effective than purposely crashing into the railings every few steps as a way to slow down.
  2. Tipping isn’t always OK. I tried to tip th bus driver for helping me with all my bags, but he gently informed me, “It’s your money, love. I get paid alright!”. I didn’t get his name but he was great at helping me get to the taxi stand, er, I mean “taxi rank”.
  3. Pear trees can be tall! There’s one I can see outside my window, of which I’ll post a picure next time.
  4. I walk slower than everyone else here. A woman pushing a stroller with a toddler overtook me on the sidewalk!
  5. In a city where building a new building probably requires a royal decree, reuse is taken to a whole new level. There’s a restaurant down the street housed in what used to be an old church! More pics on that to come as well.
  6. The Oxford University Press has the greenest grass I’ve seen so far anywhere.
  7. The zig-zag markings on the pavement aren’t weird street art by tipsy line markers. According to the highway code, it has something to do with no overtaking.
  8. Taking a shower involves pulling on a string to turn on a switch that turns on the showerhead and water heater. The string is by the door – on the opposite side of the room from the shower. I was already IN the shower when I learned this lesson!
  9. I love English breakfasts! I got to discover this at about 3 p.m. on my first day here, which by my calculations was about 6 a.m. Vancouver time, and therefore appropriate!

Well that’s it for my first post.  I am now internet-ready, so will be able to provide more updates in coming days.  Look out for a complete post on unlocking and activating a cell phone, uhm, I mean a mobile (gotta get with the lingo!).

Beginnings and endings

28 Aug

What a month it’s been! Full of beginnings and endings of all shapes and sizes.  Admittedly, this has meant some time spent away from the blogosphere, but it has been worth it.

First the beginnings.  There’s a new man in my life  – he turned 4 weeks old on Friday, and now weighs in about 12 pounds.  Our family recently welcomed a brand new baby boy, making me an aunty for the second time.  He has a special calmness about him that only tiny babies seem able to achieve, that really makes you want to just close your eyes, sit still and breathe in his fabulous baby smell. When he looks at me (as he is just starting to do) I am filled with anticipation about what the world will be like for him as he grows up, and find myself committing to doing my very best to making it better than he found it.

The other big news was an ending and beginning in one – the end of a 5-year stint with my last employer, and the beginning of being a student again!  It was definitely a bitter-sweet moment to turn in my parking pass, clean out my desk and say goodbye to the great group of folks I’ve worked with. If any of you are reading this, you will be missed. 

And finally, a true ending – moving out of my apartment, and getting rid of almost everything I’ve owned and used to make a home with for the past several years.  It’s amazing how we get attached to things! Not to mention, how many of them we accumulate when we stay in one place for a while. By my count, this is move #5 in 8 years, but it doesn’t get any easier, although your friends get better at moving stuff around.

Oddly, there’s also a strange sense of being untethered, because although I’ve moved OUT of one place, I haven’t really moved IN to the next one yet.  A three-week hiatus before landing in the next place I’ll call home will be an interesting physical and mental space to inhabit.  More on this next time ….