Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Moments in the Office

I'm sitting in a meeting right now and simultaneously processing thoughts for a brief post and brainstorming on new products...
...In post, out of post, juggling a couple of mental models, talking about companies, business models, value propositions, all the best of what business lingo can bring...
...Stepped out for a hallway conversation, the Presidential Inauguration, work updates, personal updates, later plans...
...This is how the day comes and goes, wrapping up a meeting, taking stock of the interim steps of the day, projecting to the future, staying present to close out thoughts before packing up and driving home to perform the same mad steps all over again.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy New Year (of the Ox!)

Time flies - it's been almost 3 years since my first trip to China and exposure to this most intricate of cultures. And now that I am part of a Chinese family thanks to my wife, I get to join in all of the culture's beautiful celebrations moving forward. This starts with the Chinese New Year, or more broadly the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated all across Asia as the true beginning of the year. It is a time for crazy abundance of firecrackers and the sorts of pyrotechnic displays that would put American Independence Day displays to shame. It is a time for red envelopes and monetary gifts to make the children squeal with glee over the untold riches of candies and toys that those yuan can buy. It is a time for ritual and symbolism regarding fortune, health, and happiness that certain traditions and foods can bring. Above all, it is a time for the greatest migration on the planet, where hundreds of millions of Chinese return home to their families all over the mainland, celebrating together all that the New Year might bring.

This year is the year of the Ox. Although I will miss the in-laws, who have joined that immense migration and are back in Hubei province enjoying the festivities, I will mark new celebrations with Wendy at our home stateside. And if I use the celebrations for Inauguration Day last week as a measuring stick for this year's fortunes, I will be pleasantly surprised with the result. I should hope so, because the news surrounding the economy and general state of the world is not as uplifting and encouraging...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Last Words of the First Day: President Obama's Inspiration



“Which brings me to the third and main reason why this was not just a campaign but it was a movement… and that’s you. Because when I look out across this… this place.... When I look out and see all of you, I think… look at you, you guys are just kids! And maybe it’s because so many of you are so young, or at least young at heart, that you could imagine what had not been done before. You didn’t know any better when people said I couldn’t win. You didn’t understand that that’s not how it is done, when people said, ‘well you can’t raise money over the internet $25 at a time.’ You didn't know, so you just went out and raised money over the internet $25 at a time. Yes we can.


[Crowd chanting "yes we can, yes we can..."]


“When people said, ‘you know what, you can’t build a grass-roots organization in all 50 states and have people just get on a website and just decide, ‘well, I’m going to vote for Obama and I’m just going to start organizing.’ You’re not supposed to be able to do that.’ And you guys just went ahead and did it. You didn't know any better - you said yes we can.


“That’s spirit. That…


[Crowd chanting “Ready to go! Fired up!”]


“Hey... Let me say this because I'm... I'm gonna get carried away and my wife's like, my wife said, 'you were going to be short, you were going to be brief.' Plus we’ve got an amazing show coming up. Let me just pause by saying this… now hold up, hold up… hold up, hold up.


“There is.. here's, here's… here is what I just want... want you to remember from this campaign is that… listen up, I want you guys to listen up, ‘cuz so many of you are at the start of your careers.


“You know... we now have some big problems, and we’ve assembled what I think will be an outstanding administration. We are going to follow through on our commitments, we are going to work hard to keep people in their homes, provide jobs, improve the education system for every American and change our foreign policy to reflect our ideals and our values – we are going to do all that.


“But here is the thing, I guess, that is most important to me, is that you take the spirit and the culture of this campaign and you keep applying it not just to campaigns, make it that sense of possibility that you guys can do anything, that you can reimagine the world. That you can lead not by trying to manipulate your way or push down somebody else to get your way but instead lead through the force of your example and your discipline and your creativity. I just hope that you carry that with you everywhere you go because that’s what America needs right now, active citizens like you who are willing to turn towards each other, talk to people you've never met and say, ‘c’mon, let’s go do this, let’s go change the world. Let’s go create a better way to teach our children, let’s go figure out how to make the healthcare system work for every American, let’s go make sure that we got accountability in our government, let’s go to other countries and spread the word of freedom and democracy but also prosperity and equality and justice.


“What an enormous force you've got inside yourselves. Don’t put that on the shelf and wait for the next four years. Next week, next month, next year, for the rest of your lives. Cling on to that essential thing about you. What made this campaign special was you, and don’t let anybody forget, don’t let anybody take that away from you. Because I promise you, I promise you, if everybody in this hall is willing to keep doing what you guys have been doing over the last two years, then I’m optimistic about America. And I’m gonna make some mistakes, but you’ll, you'll set me right. And after I’m out of office, then you’ll set the next person right. And maybe someday you’ll be in office, and you’ll set the country right. And maybe you’ll never be in office, but you’ll make your neighborhood right or you’ll make your job right.


“I am confident in you. I have faith in you. I am grateful to you. You, together, can change the world. God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you.”

Obama's First Day (and Last Inaugural Ball)

After a weeknight party with the stars (the infamous Youth Ball) and a weekday fighting to stay alert, I prepared for another night of Presidential Inaugural activities. Sure, the President was out longer than me at his 10 balls vs. my 1 Youth Ball and sure, Obama was working harder than me at helping the economy and repairing America's reputation abroad, but I was determined to keep up with him and attend the final ball, the Obama for America Staff Ball.

Over the course of two years of campaigning, hundreds of thousands of volunteers and campaign staffers joined up with the Obama movement and worked to get him elected. On the President's first day in office, his Presidential Inauguration Committee organized a thank-you event for a lucky few thousand of that enormous support crew, complete with open bar, never-ending buffet, and Jay-Z, of all people. Little did I know that this event of seemingly mundane proportion would be the highlight of the Inauguration week and go a long way towards replacing the infamous images of purple tickets (a growing legend for those whose privilege turned to pain on the back streets to the National Mall) and overflowing inauguration balls with images of greatness and goodwill.

After finding a prime parking spot right across the street from the venue, we gained entry to the venue after only 5 minutes of waiting in the cold. The coat check was well-organized, and security ran smoothly. Food was tasty and plentiful, so much that the buffet tables almost looked untouched when we departed at the end of the night. A beautiful spread of sandwiches, finger foods, veggies, and desserts beckoned us twice without reservation. Staffers and volunteers were overwhelmingly friendly, to the point of confusion as we wondered why everyone was so nice to each other. And the free entertainment, both from the warm-up band, the open bar and those who chose to empy its coffers, was excellent.

The evening only got better. First, the bathrooms had no lines (at least when we arrived). Second, seating was plentiful and offered good views of the proceedings. Third, we were surprised by the appearance of Joe Biden, who has quite a bit of share. Then, of course, there was Obama.

There is no better way to describe our new president than the musings of SNL comedian Darryl Hammond: "the Obamanon". This was my first evening to hear Obama speak in person, and he is truly gifted. His easy command of the language, his turn of words, his connection with the audience - Obama is almost without equal on a grand stage. Often, he has something to say. On this night, Obama's message was one of hope and inspiration to his campaign staffers, to translate the vision and hard work they showed over the past two years into tangible contributions that move the country forward. To change the world together, as he put it, with faith and confidence in what they have demonstrated to date. Heady and powerful words that left the audience asking for more of his time, as usual, before his hasty exit back to the White House.

No worries, he left the DC Armory in good hands with Jay-Z, a man who defines the words "consummate entertainer." Seeing Jay-Z in performance mode for the first time, he filled the hall with his presence and engaged the audience with "off-the-cuff" rhymes and a few playful jabs at outgoing President Bush for good measure. We danced the night away before heading for the doors and discovering that yet again, a line was still waiting to enter an Inauguration Ball.

30 seconds around the corner, and we were already in the car back home. The feeling could not be more upbeat and hopeful for what might come in the coming months. Of course, it starts with a full slate of work items tomorrow, but I figure that if Obama can already order the closure of Guatanamo Bay, then I should be able to get some of my own work done as well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Infamous Youth Ball

After the momentous Inauguration Ceremony and the mishaps of our delegates on the Mall (witness the Infamous Purple Tickets), we were poised to experience the upside of Inauguration Day through attending the Youth Ball in the evening, one of the 10 "official" balls where the President would himself make an appearance.

Setting context first, the Presidential Inauguration has established a tradition for itself ever since the rise in power of the federal government in the first part of the 20th century, evolving to encompass three major activities in subsequent order:

1) Inauguration Ceremony: a swearing in of the new president at 12pm EDT, followed by the new president's inauguration speech to the citizenry
2) Inauguration Parade: a triumphant march from the Capitol Building to the White House (incidentally moving day for the new President), followed by a processional of marching bands, troupes, and delegations
3) Inauguration Balls: a series of elegant soirees (usually black tie) that celebrate the ascendancy of the new presidency and mark a new era in Washington DC

Presuming to have golden tickets, we ventured off into the frigid evening to join the festivities of the MTV crowd and celebrity-rama that was the Youth Ball. This was one of the new events ushered in by President Obama to recognize the huge support of the younger generation (18-35) in his campaign election. Upon arrival, we realized that our golden tickets were not so golden as we joined a line 1,000 deep in the biting cold. Another 45 minutes later, we were able to thaw our feet inside the welcome tent that held the metal detectors and screening checkpoint.

A lesson learned from inauguration activities - expect lines for every conceivable activity. Finding the ballroom (20 minutes), checking the coat (15 minutes), getting food at the buffet (10 minutes), realizing that the entertainment is happening in a wholly separate auditorium (15 minutes), jamming into a crush of people with the hope of actually seeing Kid Rock and Kanye West perform live (45 minutes), feeling that inevitable disappointment to understand that the closest nearly all of the revelers would get to both acts and the President and First Lady would be from the various monitors around the waiting areas and other ballroom (45 minutes), gathering the belongings and finding the path back out of the building after the President's dance with his wife (15 minutes), and not feeling so bad after walking out of the venue to see that the line outside to get in to the ball was almost as long as you left it nearly 4 hours earlier.


















We did get a kick out of reading about all those celebrities we supposedly partied with in the news: Demi Moore & Ashton Kutcher, Usher, and Fall Out Boy to name a few that strangely missed us in the revelry. We did get a chance to come across Rosario Dawson as her security detail found her a path past the barricades into the main event ballroom, all the while being accosted by a bitter Obama campaign staffer who was sharing her feelings of ingratitude for not finding herself across the barricades as well. No doubt there were hard feelings for the $75 tickets and $10 martinis to boot, but sometimes those are the breaks, I suppose.

A final lesson learned from inauguration activities - just pretend like it is New Year's Eve, expect very little, and give yourself a chance to be surprised. We'll have to wait another four years to apply these inauguration lessons. In the meantime, we will have to enjoy the fact that President Obama is in the same building but on a TV monitor instead of in the flesh.

The Infamous Purple Tickets

Imagine waking at 4am EDT after falling asleep just three hours before, partially for completing a 5-hour drive through traffic from NYC, partially for staying up to chat with welcoming friends who offered accommodations for fellowship. Imagine joining an early-morning stampede on the Metro, scrambling yet patiently biding lines with 1.7M other revelers clogging every conceivable train, plane, car, bus, bike, and pedestrian route into Washington DC. Imagine facing pre-dawn winds that blustered and drove temperatures well below zero, even if those measured temperatures neglected to measure a bone-rattling wind chill factor. Imagine exiting the Metro to face a wall of revelers, altogether commiserate but undeniably determined to bear witness to the noontime event that would mark a new chapter in American history. Imagine forming a strange brotherhood with same revelers while fighting every inch of advancement to the entrance gate, moving with the grit that some describe wartime front advancements amidst gunfire and shrapnel. Imagine fighting the totality of weather and crowds for hours on end, all the way from 6am to 11am EDT before reaching the entrance gate. Imagine the profound sense of disappointment when said gate was closed and not accepting any entrants for any reason. Imagine holding the official inaugural ticket in shivering hands, a supposed golden ticket (purple, in fact, of the Official Inaugural Celebration variety) that held little value from that moment forward. Imagine the build-up and excitement dissipating as no other places were available to bear witness directly with own eyes as little time was left before start of ceremonies. Imagine the extreme frustration of discovering that many people without official tickets clogged the area and inevitably blocked entrance to those with tickets, inevitably taking seats to which they were not entitled. Imagine staring at those official tickets and wondering what a morning of such highs and lows really meant when the inauguration was out of sight and out of reach.

An uncommon fate that befell our delegates on Inauguration Day, but the event was not a loss. With the excitement of a city that had never seen the same size crowd before - and arguably never again in our lifetimes - there were many logistical blunders that were left unreported. Both lax and overzealous crowd control from a security staff that was not always equipped to handle mega rallies such as what became of the Inauguration. People with medical conditions, some of which led to ambulance arrivals and further confusion. Onlookers trapped by barricades and made to wait for hours while others whose luck placed them more favorably on the Mall were able to exit with relatively minimal delay.

These stories became part of the historic fabric woven from the experiences of thousands who were took part in the day that unfolded - including the heart-breaking events that awaited those who held infamous Purple Tickets. Turns out that our delegates had plenty of company in their state of heartbreak with the countless other Purple ticketholders who experienced the same fate. I had to chuckle as the inauguration balls following the ceremony turned up a number of hapless Inauguration Day stories, and the common thread tying most of these accounts of misfortune together? Purple tickets...

Historic Morning

The Presidential Inauguration events drew me away from my work activities this morning. Living in DC, it is hard to concentrate on the normal tasks at hand, so I set aside my action items and watched the overflowing crowd (over two million strong) on TV. We have a delegate inside, the singer from our wedding, who is braving the cold for an eyewitness account of this amazing moment. "Bearing witness", said one woman on the radio - and she was right.

Our delegate left with his "roommate" this morning around 4am; he was able to enter his assigned seating area at 9:45am, where he will eventually take position in the coveted stands (Purple section rules!) at the base of the Capitol Building. The text messages are flying furiously as the event unfolds in the early hours:
"Crazy"
"still havent moved an inch. weve had a couple of ambulances cause people have freaked out!"
As President-elect Obama left the Blair House, received service at St. Thomas Church across from the White House, and took the ceremonial coffee with President Bush and the First Lady, the crowds continued to arrive and the cameras continued to roll. Fitting that these images are shared across the country, a common American experience alongside what all the thousands are experiencing on the National Mall. An historic morning, and we are all there.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ground Zero from the Ground Up

I have associated the World Trade Center buildings with New York City ever since my first visit to NYC back in 2001. Those two pillars were a symbol of for what New York City means to the US and to the world, towering above and almost omnipresent in their command of the skyline. Surprising to me and most everyone else that these huge steel monuments to commerce would fall on a beautiful fall morning later that year, left to smolder with the remains of thousands and conjecture what would become of a world considered less safe than before.

I was reminded of these thoughts as I worked out of an office that affronted the north end of the once-magnificent buildings. Same brilliant sunshine pierced through the gorges formed by a litany of skyscrapers, but the light was altogether brilliant passing through what once was steel and concrete. Below were the cranes fighting to resurrect what was once so proud, crippled not just by the immense task at hand but by the "politics-as-usual" wrangling of city planners, developers, and concerned citizens. I suppose the sub-freezing temperatures and blustery wind tunnels contributed to slow efforts on that particular day, but the story is broader than temperature.

Nevertheless, my view was unobstructed. There is still great promise in what might result from that large plot of land now hollowed of foundation and infrastructure. The afternoon's mood framed by brilliant sunshine, I connected to the general American sentiment of hope brought by an incoming president who has taken on skillfully the dreams of Americans these days. Who knows what the next months will truly bring, but for now, it is thrilling to think about building again and possibilities. If only for a moment I have this reflection, though, as my presentation was still due to the boss at 2pm.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Countdown to Inauguration

Something is afoot in Washington DC. The town is buzzing in a way that transports me deep into the pages of a Tolstoy epic. Although not nearly as stunning in architecture and geography, I picture DC as St. Petersburg during the Napoleonic Wars and the great balls held at the Winter Palace. I can see the soldiers in green uniform and the women in Empire dresses, both poised for gallantry and yearning for courtship and dancing. I can hear the mindless chatter of the commoners and the cultivated gossip of the social climbers. I can feel the bustle of the court staff and the anticipation of the ball pageantry at the Tsarist court - all of St. Petersburg would have been charged with the candlelight of a thousand souls yearning for excitement, greatness, and intrigue.

It is the same in Washington DC as Obama ascends to the presidency. Inaugural committees furiously prepare festivities, FedEx couriers feverishly distribute ball invitations, women nervously fret over their ball gowns, and men secretly worry over political appointments and cabinet positions. All await January 20th as a day of amazing anticipation and spectacle - the swearing-in of a new president and the celebration of any number of inauguration balls.

Thanks to my wife's impeccable timing and connections, we received tickets to one of the ten official inauguration balls at which President Obama will make a grand appearance. Naturally, I am excited - but not to meet the newly sworn-in president. I am more excited to partake in an historic series of events and a public mood that hearken back to the pomp and circumstance of such past eras. When black tie was the norm, and ladies presented themselves formally to society. When civilty was the norm, and people across the land celebrated for a cause larger than themselves. When epoch-making was the norm, and achieving greatness was a badge of honor and not a disgraceful pursuit.

Regardless of reason for public captivation with Barack Obama's inauguration (Race? Bush? History? Change?), I look forward to his coronation day as a chance to enjoy a brief dalliance with the rituals of prior generations. And with less than a week to inauguration, let the anticipation build and the countdown begin.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Photograph

I found this photograph in a book that I donated to charity this past weekend. A couple is pausing to smile upon their dinner salads, likely a happy occasion - these are my parents. The year is somewhere in the early 1970's, before children, before responsibilities, before aging parents, before cell phones. I wondered what might have been the thoughts of that seemingly joyous evening and what conversation topics flowed from this meal.

Signs of the times are prevalent - smaller food portions, colorful attire, an ashtray with a cigarette butt inside. But the smiles are the same, many years after. And in those smiles is a deeper connection to what remains, timeless and poignant. I am reminded of a classic yet obscure song from my high school days in the 1990's, a collaboration between REM and Natalie Merchant called Photograph. I am grateful that the pages of a worn book surrendered this treasure - "I found this photograph"...

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Quiet Morning

I am looking out over a clean desk full of promise. Listen for a moment: rhythmic silence. There are house creaks, highway murmur of cars and trucks, but that noise drifts away on the sea that you picture next. Imagine a solid ship conquering the waves rolling before you, standing triumphant over the bow and looking out towards a horizon bursting with shades of blue. Feel for a moment: crisp sea air, some brine peppering your face but a fresh feeling nonetheless. For this moment, imagine unfurling a map that makes perfect sense to you, and upon simple decipher, points the way towards yellow and green mingling with the horizon yonder over bow. And imagine, over that rhythmic silence that sounds like constant waves, upon the bow of a solid ship, crisp sea air refreshing the lungs, the first sight of a beautiful new land emerge in the distance, beautiful blue meets verdant green.

This image is heaven to me as I render pure to cleanse the mind and prepare for the day. A quiet morning and a cup of coffee steady me for more creativity to come.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Slow Morning

Today is a not-so-subtle mix of rain in its various forms (wet, icy, cold, big, small, what have you), and I am trying to scale the mountain of productivity set before me. As the window bears the constant presence of this dreary day, I embrace a slow morning as calm before all the storms that inevitably await me.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Fresh Start

2009 is upon us.

The holiday decorations have come down - save our tree, which will find its hibernating spot this upcoming weekend.

The college football bowl games have all been played - save the mythical national championship game, which is nothing more than an ESPN orgy of soundbytes and commercials.

The work pace has quickened with the start of a new year - save no one, incidentally, with barely complaint due to thankfulness for gainful employment by those still in good jobs.

There is nothing left to do except remember what resolutions presented themselves to my psyche. Ah yes, the typical ones - health, well-being, fortune, and good luck. The work ones - yearly priorities and commitments for the boss, in writing. The highly personal ones - some not realized until deep in the throes of a peaceful slumber.

All these endings and beginnings are a natural part of life. It reminds me of the class that ended my MBA experience in Switzerland, taught by a certain Professor Kohlrieser who said something that has stuck with me ever since: "If you are not doing something today that does not make you feel uncomfortable, you are not challenging yourself and growing as a person."

Here I am at the beginning a new year, ready for what this year might bring and what it might entail. A fresh start, and I am ready to engage, onward from this entry...

p.s. - thanks for some sunshine from those out there who are thoughtful to check in - small blurbs from friends make splendid surprises any day of the week.