Vitamines pour la rentrée – a September play list

La Défense concerts

It was always like a little present, when traveling through the subterranean transport system of Paris, I would hear the tunes of these wonderful artists giving their morning rush hour surprise performance. Music always helps me to get into that work state of mind. And now that September is well on its way, schools have started, vacation is over, it’s time for, as they call it in France, ‘la rentrée’. To get you going again, here’s my September playlist with tunes selected to energize you. Which songs are your ‘labour vitamins’? Let me know.



PS: if the embedded playlist doesn’t show for whatever reason, you can click here and open it in Spotify.

It’s Monday again

It’s Monday again.
The day that is
the focus of many
laments.

The week starts today,
back to school or work,
the weekend as passed,
time for fun over.

It’s Monday again,
and it’s actually sad
that so many of us
can’t wait for Friday.

Is Monday really so bad?
Or is it the choices
we made?

What if we chose different?

It’s Monday again!
Hurray.
Can’t wait to get back
to work or school.
Eager to learn, to do
what I love to do.

Stealing Vending Machine

Right. Again I lost a coin to a machine. And it wasn’t even a gambling one. It was one of those regular coffee vending machines you find in office buildings all over the world. One of those machines that give not very good coffee in exchange for some coins. We have several in our building, where roughly 600 people work. The machines are exploited by an unknown company. At least, unknown to the users. There is no contact information for the owner of the machines. At least not visible. Normally, I use one of those chip-keys. You plug it in, throw some cash in the machine, and it adds to your balance. Then you can use the balance to buy the coffee. Nice technology, but… it doesn’t always work as expected. About 4 times in an 19 month period, it failed to add a coin to the balance. And I did not get the coin back. In total I probably lost the not schocking amount of 3 Euro. Small enough not to be bothered. Until you start doing the math, with some assumptions of course.

So, say I’ve lost about 2,50 EUR in a year’s time. And assume that I am not alone, but that this happens to roughly 50 percent of potential machine users (600 in the building, meaning 300 that have a similar experience). For our building, that means 300 x 2,50 = 750 Euro per year. Then assume this nameless company has roughly 100 similar clients, not unimaginable in the Paris/Ile-de-France area. That means 100 x 750 = 75.000 Euro per year of pure extra income.

Or am I just being paranoid?

Snapshots of Lutetia – La Defense

La Défense from Pont de Suresnes

When I started working in Paris, a lot of my friends and colleagues, not only from the Netherlands, assumed that I was working in La Défense. The business district just west of Paris. In fact, the office I work in is in Saint Cloud, about 10 minutes south of La Défense with the tramway. But assuming that someone working for one of the bigger companies in Paris, is located in La Défense is not strange at all. In fact, most of the big French corporations, including my employer, have offices in this business center of Paris. Even so, there is business life outside La Défense.

Lean And ITIL Go Together

“In the tradition of mass production, ITIL processes tend to become administrative burdens aimed at getting the SLA numbers right, in stead of doing what they’re supposed to achieve. Batching incident tickets, or RfCs in systems and meetings, assigning and reassigning to not have it on your (team’s) name so long that you breach your KPIs, are more practice than exception. All the while, producing changes that put the production environment at risk and having incidents unsolved in reality, so the business is prevented from making money. But hey, in the system the ticket is closed on time, so the incident is resolved, right? Apart from the fact that a new ticket is opened and assigned to another team.”

Read the rest on Capgemini’s technology blog Capping IT Off.

A Curious Incident At Lunchtime

In French offices, the lunchtime timeslot is on of the quiet periods of the day. Most people are out having lunch, only a few remain for reasons of their own (no friends or an anglo-saxon/dutch style lunch of having a sandwich at the desk whilst continuing to work for example). Today, I was one of the few. And since I have quite a lot of work to do these days, I had my noise reducing Sennheiser CX300II in my ears to create a private bubble in the open space. Works rather well, by the way. Until I saw a colleague grinning and waving close to me. And pointing. Trying to attract the attention of some of the other few still in the office. Apparently, one of our colleagues had fallen asleep at the desk, and that was something to laugh about. Now, I have to say, we do have our regular moments of a bit of fun around the office, but this was something I would expect more in kindergarden.

What would be interesting to know, is that this colleague is/was also in charge of setting up the plans of our H1N1 virus contingency plans. So he should be aware of what to do when something out of the ordinary happens to people at the workplace. I admit, I did not respond immediately, especially not with the laughter he was looking for. But when I responded, I walked over to the person to check everything was okay. It could have been some black out of sorts, for all we could tell from a distance. Apparently, it was indeed fatigue, and fortunately the person in question was otherwise fine. We went, with another colleague, for a bit of fresh air to revive spirits. Then we learned that the colleague was one of many doing Ramadan, the Islamic fast period. I don’t know much about it, but it’s roughly halfway through now, in a month long of fasting. It is very tiring for the people who do it, and takes great discipline. Nothing to make fun of. It’s not for me, but I have respect for those that follow the rules, especially in a ‘Western’ office environment where colleagues go for 60-minute lunches and about four 15-minute coffee breaks a day. Anyway, I thought this was a curious incident worth mentioning. And please, if a colleague seems to be asleep, check whether all is well before making fun.

See You Soon, Or How I Need To Look Forward

One of the big advantages of being in a consultancy type of job, or working for a consultancy type of company, is that you get to meet a lot of interesting people. Whether it is colleagues you work with on a project or are in a training with, the clients you work for, or simply people whose paths you cross. Two of the traits you need for this is being able to quickly establish a relationship, and move on when the time to do so has come. For me, the last trait means that you keep your distance a bit, and fire off the occasional phone call, e-mail, text message or facebook friends invite long after you’ve left a certain team, project or assignment. And you just don’t look back too much.

In fact, this has become some sort of second nature, to the extent that also outside of work, I am not the guy with that birthday calendar on the restroom wall. You might sometimes get a birthday message, and sometimes you might not. I’ll call you, but not every day. Whether you are a former colleague, a friend, or a relative. I became that guy, that you might never hear of again, but when you meet, he’s buying you a drink for old times sake.

In the almost eleven years that I’ve been doing this, it worked for me pretty well and I came to rely on my strongly developped ability to keep looking forward. Only recently I realised, that sometimes it just doesn’t work that way always. In quick succession, some people I got close to (mistake number 1?) went on to a new challenge. And yes, there were some moments that I even felt sad about not seeing them as often as I got used to. I got reintroduced to the notion that you can get to miss people, especially in the little things, like the short talks over coffee. Fortunately, the job territory comes with not only a lot of new people to meet, but also the chance of working together, or crossing paths, another time in another place. And modern technology – mobile phones, e-mail, facebook, yammer, twitter, trains, planes and automobiles – definitely help making it easy to make your paths cross again. So to those that have left the building: see you soon.

Are International Conversations Bad For Our Language Skills?

As has been argued many times when the use of sms/texting language made
its growth sprint, language is a living thing, that is a tool for
getting a message across. The message being the most important thing,
language can be considered as a wrapper. This wrapper serves to ensure
that the audience, or intended receiver of your message, is able to
process it. One of the main criteria for a language hence, is whether
the audience understands it. And with is where it gets interesting.
Somehow, somewhere, English became the de facto international language
of use. But it is now used by more non-native than native speakers. And
that means that the international English is being influenced by other
languages. Even to such an effect that some have already declared it a
language of its own: Panglish. One with its own grammar and idiom.
Whether that is completely true, I am not sure. But what I do think, is
that a good knowledge of the basics of grammar of your native language,
helps you to properly construct your message and thus communicate
effectively. And having just a beginner’s level clue about the native
language of the other participants in a conversation, surely helps you
to understand their English. For most of what we say in our second
language, is based on the grammar rules of our native language.

So, in my opinion, to have effective communication in international
groups, it is imperitive to focus on understanding the content. And
having basic language skills in other languages make it even easier.

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How to put Yammer to good use in your company

Now, collaboration and crowdsourcing might seem like typical web2.0/consultant/techie jargon, but I will give some examples to put a bit of clarification to that jargon-use. Consider that I work for a globally operating company. We do roughly the same type of work all over the world, which means that we have a lot of expertise and knowledge, sometimes with some variation into niche-areas, spread over several countries. The total sum of these colleagues can be seen as a ‘crowd’. Now say that I have a question on a certain subject for which I do not have the expertise in my team, and no one in my direct network has access to this expertise. I can post my question to yammer, and there is bound to be someone out there, who either is an expert, or knows one. In the couple of days I am using yammer, I have seen several cases where someone got an answer or a contact within less than 30 minutes. To me, that is quite an efficient form of crowdsourcing.

The next example is about collaboration. If you want a tool like yammer to be put to good use, it will immediately work when the user community is small and full of early adaptors that are paving the way. But at one point there will be an explosive growth to a huge amount of users. And remember, this is aimed to be a business tool. So, to keep the usage a bit efficient and clean, you might want to set up a set of guidelines and rules on how to put the tool to use. So, in our yammer community someone suggested to draw up a Code of conduct and invited the other users to join in building it. And a group of people did, using Google docs to share the document and all put in our thoughts at the same time. In quite a short period, we managed to have a very good first draft. Not only was that an example of successful collaboration, also it was a lot of fun.

Most of the talk about social media and how-to is around brand building and marketing. But with tools like Yammer and Google docs, there is also a very operational benefit of using this tools in a business. I think the important move is to start using it and experiment with what works and what not, for your business. And if you have the size of our group, see if there are some of those early adaptors using it, and facilitate the usage. Capture their experiences and put them to good use to capitalize on the vast amount of knowledge that can be easily made accessible.

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Why Feedback Is A Good Thing

Another feature of feedback is that it needs to be constructive. Remarks like “this was good” or “you didn’t do it well” are just inputs that you cannot do anything with. They will not help you get where you want to go, they only say something of where you’ve been and what you probably already know. Once I got such a remark, after doing the pilot of a workshop. One of the feedback points was that I had a nice voice. Now of course this was nice to hear, but I do not agree on that, and it didn’t help me in improving the workshop. Proper feedback is formulated in such a way that it tells you something you can use in the future. Better would have been if I was told that because of proper intonation and volume, the participant stayed focused on the content. From that I would have learned that I had this capability, and that I should consciously use it in facilitating workshops. Now, I don’t know if that is the case.
The same goes for feedback on points of improvement. With saying something was bad, or ugly, you tell me I need to improve, but give me no guidance on how to do that. Better feedback would be that I could improve something, by thinking of or learning how-to achieve that something. For example, telling me the slides in my presentation are ugly and incomprehensible doesn’t help me. But giving me the feedback that they were too full of text and had too many colours in it, and that my improvement would be how to use less text and a better colour balance.

This brings me to balance. Feedback is not commenting on negative points, but balancing the positive points with the points to improve. A rule of thumb we use in our company is that you need to feedback on at least as many positive points as points of improvement. And preferably have only one or two more positive points. Because, the positive point are nice to hear, and help you knowing where your strengths are, but a feedback session shouldn’t become an ego trip.

The last thing about feedback is that you are in charge. You ask for feedback, and it is you that has to reflect on it, and see whether you are going to use it, or put it aside with all the good reasons you can think of.

So, if feedback is solicited, from a trusted person, constructive and balanced, then I can see no harm in it. And if you don’t forget that you are in charge, it will help you grow, learn and will not break up your creative process. If it is none of these things, it is just data, mainly designed to show off the self-perceived knowledge or expertise of the sender. Even that can be nice sometimes, if it is positive, but if you have too much of it, you can get lost in the pile. And that will indeed break up your creative process.

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