Friday, 9 December 2011

David and Goliath

A small club gets knocked out of the Premier League. Problems continue and the club teeters on the edge of bankruptcy until a consortium buys it out. Negotiations stall over a move to the old Crystal Palace site from Selhurst Park. A new manager joins.

Every year Crystal Palace FC start the season well and then seem to falter. Fans begin to reconsider the idea of renewing their season ticket, given that the rewards seem to be outweighed by the costs.

At the other end of the scale, Manchester United go from strength to strength. Sir Alex Ferguson has managed the club for 25 years and the cupboards are full of silverware. Despite the buyout by the Glazer family and subsequent financial transactions that left the club with significant debt, Ferguson has ensured the security of ManU for the forseeable future through his long run of success.

On 30 November Palace played ManU and won 2-1 by Glenn Murray's goal in extra time, strengthening their chance of a place in the final of the Carling Cup. ManU may well have played the B,C or D team, because of more important fixtures coming up, but they still had substantial financial assets on the pitch in the form of overseas signings, and still lost.

This is a great boost to Palace and their dispirited fans and encourages people to trust in Dougie Freeman, the new manager.

Denmark showed how minimal expectations and determination can produce results, when they won the European Championship in 1992 (replacing Yugoslavia, who couldn't play because of the Bosnian conflict.) If you have nothing much to lose and everything to gain, then it's possible to beat impressive opponents, if you shift mindsets and persist. The psychological battle is the hardest to win, the rest is down to persistence, effort, skill and luck.

Congratulations Palace.

Someone had some fun with this spoof:

Rapper Fat Joe says "Educate yourself to weight loss"

Here's how he used to look:

In this video he talks about how he lost 100lbs by educating himself on the science of food and metabolism. Basically Rapper Fat Joe cut out most starch and sugar.

'Super crack head level with sugar...... and then we wonder how we caught diabetes...'

'I lost 6 friends last year to heart attacks..... all younger than me...'

'We're not superheroes, we're human beings. I'm being a realist. That's going to happen to me if I don't switch it up.'

'Not only do I feel better, I'm not missing nothing. I still eat chicken, steak, lobster, with sauteed vegetables or salad. I don't eat it with that pasta, rice or bread.'

In breaking news, Denmark has levied a tax on saturated fat and Norway is running out of butter from the increasing popularity of high fat/low carb ways of eating.. 2 neighbouring countries with diametrically opposed views on diet and obesity.

Listen to da man. Rapper Thin Joe tells it like it is.


Monday, 5 December 2011

You must be crazy!

As a boy, Jørn helped his father build and sail small boats.

In Denmark he observed the intricacies of the natural world and marvelled at interlocking fish scales and the mechanics of a bird's wing in flight.

When he travelled abroad as an architectural student, he noticed how these details sometimes appeared in building design, such as intricate interlocking roof tiles on a grand mosque. His observations went into the melting pot and culminated in a visionary design for an important building, which he submitted in open competition.

Jørn's drawings were discarded by the panel early on in the weekend. The Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen, turned up late to participate in judging entries. He worked through all of the entries, including those that had been eliminated, and decided that Jørn's ideas were the most outstanding of the bunch. Saarinen championed Jørn's design until it was finally chosen.

Building was a major challenge. Jørn had not included any engineering slant on how his vision might be turned into reality. Danish Engineers, Ove Aarup and Partners, were brought in to find a solution. However, Jørn had included detailed consideration of elements to enhance sound and performance as well as facilities for the audience, which would take the project way over budget if included. The project was finished without Jørn, as he was thrown off the project in the middle, refushing to compromise on the detail. The building has become an iconic landmark and is famous worldwide to tourists and musicians alike. Much later the authorities began to admit that some of the additional details could be retrofitted, as they would make a significant difference to the quality of the experience.

That is the story of how Jørn Utzon designed the Sydney Opera House.

I thought about Utzon when a young Georgian architect friend told me he plans to build a financial district in his country - the City of Tbilisi. There is a long history of visionary architects and planners being thrown off their own projects mid way, so the risks of the undertaking are huge.

Meredith Belbin devised a way of considering how people work together in drawing up his Team Role Inventory. He encourages us to look at the range of functions that must be fulfilled in order to complete a project. Each of us can fulfill one or more roles. We may have functions that are strong, moderate or weak, so it makes sense to work to our strengths and find others who are strong at our weak functions.

Utzon holds the visionary or Plant function. He clearly also thinks through to the consequences of his designs down to the smallest detail, which covers the Completer Finisher function. He probably also carries out the Specialist function, in that he shows little interest aptitude for the areas outside of his own narrow field (including finance and engineering.)

Ove Aarup and Partners were brought in by the government to make Utzon's design work and held the Implementer or Company Worker function. Others sorted out the finance, when the project went well over deadline and budget and held the Resource Investigator role. There was also a driving force to ensure that the project maintained momentum and was completed (Shaper). The Chairperson or Co-ordinator role was also carried out, but seemed unable to manage the external pressures effectively.

Neglected areas seem to be those who detached themselves to check out what was happening in the team to ensure that appropriate decisions were taken (Monitor Evaluator); and those who kept the peace and ensured constructive relations in the team throughout the crises (Teamworker).

Other notable architects manage to stay the course and avoid being kicked off their projects. I suspect that, in some cases, the named star takes the role of Co-ordinator and delegates the Plant and Implementer roles to underlings, who don't ususally share the glory. This seems to be common practice in architectural firms, but Ken Shuttleworth is the most notable example of the mismatch between fame and quality of output. His former boss, Norman Foster, built the company's reputation by tackling small industrial projects in the early days.

Survivors also include engineering expertise in their designs, so they can demonstrate the HOW of the building and not just the WHAT to prospective customers. Bringing the Implementer role in-house or under their own control ensures that projects don't slip out of their grasp so easily.

Utzon's story also reminds me of how much innovation may depend on luck or serendipity. If he had not found a champion in Saarinen, then we might have a functional, but pedestrian building in Sydney harbour.

As Pinchot reminds us 'Go to work each day ready to be fired.' That seems sober and realistic advice for young visionary innovators starting out.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Doers versus Dreamers

Books offering home spun philosophy, such as 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' do well in the best seller lists, but don't seem to draw on life experience in a useful way.

Here are 2 excerpts from an interview with Steve Jobs, where he offers 2 concepts that helped him.

The first relates to change and the power of ordinary people to make a difference:

The second gives us an insight into how he made progress in his career, mainly by asking for help: