Tag Archives: English

Where is the Brexit Business Case?

Next week on June 8th there will be new elections in the UK and after this the negotiations around the Brexit between Britain and the EU will start. Michel Barnier, EU’s chief negotiator, has planned these negotiations to start on June 19th but who he will negotiate from te UK side is of course depending on the outcome of the elections.

Theresa May notified the European council of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on 29 March this year, nine months after last years June referendum. According to the Lisbon treaty the withdrawal negotiations as allowed under article 50 need to be finished within two years so the end date is set on March 30th 2019 (unless all parties agree on an extended deadline…). And after this day the actual transition will start and this will probably also take time, this whole Brexit programma will probably dominate the EU agenda for the coming years.

So although te UK had already nine months to prepare before the negotiation phase started, 10 weeks have passed since without any formal or informal negotiations. And with the elections next week even more uncertainty is created because we don’t know who we will need to negotiate with from the UK side after the elections: the latest polls show the conservatives are losing their majority so Theresa May did not get the clear victory she expected from the elections. And when Labour takes over government together with the SNP the whole negotiation process will at least delay and probably soften the negotiations.

With the Brexit negotiations a long and complex negotiation process will start which has never been done before in the history of the EU and with an uncertain outcome, a complex landscape of stakeholders within both the EU as the UK and a rapidly changing political and economical environment.

As a first step the European Council agreed on a set of principles outlined as follow:

“In these negotiations the Union will act as one. It will be constructive throughout and will strive to find an agreement. This is in the best interest of both sides. The Union will work hard to achieve that outcome, but it will prepare itself to be able to handle the situation also if the negotiations were to fail. These guidelines define the framework for negotiations under Article 50 TEU and set out the overall positions and principles that the Union will pursue throughout the negotiation. The European Council will remain permanently seized of the matter, and will update these guidelines in the course of the negotiations as necessary.”

So a fixed end date but not fixed if all agree, basic principles which can be changed along the way and  even fall back scenario in case the negotiations are not successful: from a programme management perspective and change management perspective a big challenge with a lot of risks involved and all indicators for a potential failure most visible in the objective to ge an agreement  in the best interest of both sides.

You can compare the Brexit negotiations with a divorce, key with a divorce is that both parties are saying farewell to the former situation when they were living together  ‘in the best interest of both sides’ and want to establish a new situation where after the divorce you want to take care of your own interest. And as we all know a divorce can become very nasty and give a fight around parenthood and the distribution of material and immaterial assets and pensions: in the end both parties involved will have to pay a price. And just like after a divorce it is also valid for the Brexit: how can the EU and UK separate from each other and share the pain? In this process it is not about who will win but how both parties can quickly come to an agreement and sign the divorce papers, the longer this process will take the more damage will be done on the relationship. After the divorce it will take time to heal and buildup a new relationship: when the settlement of the divorce was not fair this will be more difficult.

So I think it would be best to come to an agreement as quickly as possible and already start with the implementation with parts of the agreements once decided on. It would have helped if EU had already come up with a more detailed plan how they would like to manage the Brexit and the future relationship with the UK including the different possible transition scenario’s, their costs and benefits and a roadmap for the transition. Just like a normal government programme is broken into projects and is based on a proper business case as described in the Prince2 project management methodology especially developed for UK government. This would also be fair for the UK voters because next week they will not know what the objectives and strategies of the political parties will be during the negotiations and will be giving a blanco cheque to the new UK Government next week to do what they think is best.

The Brexit is not about negotiating a contract between two companies who will profit most from the contract but it’s about countries with a long history of working together and establishing great things and need start connecting again and work together as soon as possible!

And as a European not having much influence on this whole negotiation process (we were not asked what we want) and not having elected the current EU leadership directly maybe EU leadership could take the criticism of the UK serious and transform the EU into a more democratic European Union and take out regulation that does not make sense and decrease overhead so we can also benefit from the Brexit business case.

Update June 9th 2017 4:00

Theresa May has lost the elections because she did not get the majority of seats in parlement which will make it difficult for the UK to start the Brexit negotiation process June 19th as planned. When Theresa May should decide to resign as MP, and already members of the conservatives are asking for this, someone else needs to take over: this will have impact on the UK negotiation team and it will take time before this team can operate effectively. This will delay the negotiations significant and weaken UK’s position. The winner of this UK elections is the EU who is now confronted with a divided UK without a strong leader and without a clear strategy.

Update June 19th 2017 20:00

Belgium EU Brexit

Today finally the negotiations started with a UK negotiation team presenting a divided country after the disappointing elections for the tories, the terror attacks and the Grenfell towers fire. The UK government is under a lot of pressure form inside and outside and that is not a good starting point for the negotiations. We will se how this will further develop the coming months…

Looking at above picture of the teams sitting together for the first time I noticed:

  1. It looks like there is no (independent) chair for the meeting;
  2. The delegations are too big, both teams consist of ten people, too much for running an effective meeting;
  3. The two parties are sitting opposite each other with a lot of distance in between, a smaller table could create a more informal atmosphere;
  4. There are a lot of microphones and screens in the middle, probably all what’s said is translated and recorded,  this will not help making creative solutions..

Let’s see how this will work out in time!

 

‘Finally British Again’, a Brexit Comedy!

Script: Finally British Again

Gerard Geerlings april 1st 2017 – Inspired by ‘Dad’s Army’ and ‘Fawlty Towers” and ‘House of Cards’.

Summary: In Brussels a team of the EU and one of the UK is negotiating the terms and conditions around the Brexit, they are already busy for more than a year without much progress. ‘Finally British Again (FBA)’ reports weekly on what’s going on on the main negotiations table and give insight in the political intriques which go on in Brussels, London, Paris, Berlin, Edinburg, etc… Main characters: chair of the negotiation team, the chairs of the EU en UK team, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker, Federica Mogherini, Donald Task, Donald Trump…

Baseline: It’s should be a comedy in the best British tradition and close to reality so if possible recorded on a weekly schedule!

Background: The key negotiations take place in a luxurious Hotel in the center of Brussels under the responsibility of a central transition team called the Brexit Oversight Committee (BOC) but mostly named ‘Oversight’ which consists of 3 persons of the UK, 3 from Europe and an ‘independent’ chair Federica Mogherini which was agreed on after months of negotiation. This team is supported by a lot of working groups with delegations of all EU countries: a complex bureaucratic organisation where hundreds of people are working 24/7 and nobody knows exactly who is responsible for what and is still constantly growing because when a problem comes up and no decision can be made a new commission is installed by the ‘Oversight’.

Suggestion for actors: Chair Brexit Oversight Committee (BOC):  John Cleese, Theresa May: Anne Robinson, chair EU delegation: Federica Mogherini: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Boris Johnson: Daffyd Thomas, Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk: Joris Luyendijk…

Locations: the main negotiation room with a oval table called The Mess, the big EU Brexit Office where nobody knows who is doing what and everybody speaks a different language (and is called Babylon), The British Embassy from where the UK delegation works, The Pub where the delegations meet after work, nr10 Downing Street, the train from Brussels to Straatsburg..

The objective of the main negotiation team is to:

  1. Take care the transition goes as planned  as agreed in the Transition Plan and
  2. Decide on issues which could not be agreed on in the working groups and
  3. Make proposals to adjust the transition plan when needed for the EU and UK government.

Draft content first 10 episodes:

Episode 1: The Table: on who to chair the meetings, where to negotiate, in which language and how to decide on the agenda. Because of IT security problems they decide no to use the internet but typewriters…

Episode 2: The Press: the EU wants to negotiate in the open while the UK wants to keep meeting private and only report monthly on the progress. Finally they decide on a weekly press conference by both parties on a common agreed message to be prepared by a new press committee.

Episode 3: The Irish Boarder; the negotiation team decides to start with this issue and cannot come with a solution everybody agrees on so they decide to implement a new workgroup and after some discussions it become 3 workgroups: a legal, economic and one for boarder protection one, which soon became known as The Wall Committee.

Episode 4: The Boris Complot: although Boris Johnson has no formal role in the negotiations he has a lot of influence on the EU negotiations team and both a line with the chair as with Donald Trump… A journalist makes this public.

Episode 5: Fish & Whisky: The UK wants ‘Whiskey’ to be a brand which only can be used by the UK and and abandon EU fishing ships from their territory, no Whiskey deal is made but on fish they agree on a five year transition plan which gets a lot of media attention.

Episode 6: The UK EU pensions: The EU has decided that the UK should pay for the pensions for the EU staff who worked for the EU in the past. When the budget needed for this and the salaries become public two members of the negotiation team are involved, they need to resign..

Episode 7: Budget Problems: The budget if the Brexit transition itself is already overspend on the side of the EU while the UK is doing fine and for some teams even uses sponsors who advertise with this in the media. The European parlement want this is stopped but they can’t find a legal basis for this.

Episode 8: Gibraltar: Since the start of the negotiations there have been issues regarding Gibraltar which the UK does not want to leave and to put pressure on the negotiations the UK decided to close the borders. With plains they need to deliver goods to Gibraltar and after some time the citizens of Gibraltar want to leave the UK and join Spain.

Episode 9: Leaving London: Banks and headquarters of multinationals with a headquarter in London are leaving London on a massive scale. By lowering taxes and giving working visa for staff the UK wants to stop this while the transition plan agreed they would not do this while still negotiating..

Episode 10: The Scottish: Have closed a trade deal with Trump without knowledge of the UK en EU and communicate they are negotiating with Ireland and the Netherlands.

Every episode ends with to delegates talking and joking in the train from Brussels to Straatsburg (or London or Berlin), the UK delegate drinking gin tonic and the EU one drinking German beer while the Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk is listening secretly to them in the back of the train…

Let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement or want to become part of the writers team. Netflix, HBO and the BBC are invited to tender for the production rights.

(c) Gerard Geerlings 2017 – www.gerardgeerlings.nl

With the help of Andy Evers @londonandy !

Marina Abramović ‘Walk Through Walls’

Two weeks ago I visited the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and bought Marina Abramović’s book ‘Walk through walls’ in the museum shop. I just read an interview with her in the Dutch newspaper NRC and was curious about her memoirs written by ghost writer James Kaplan who listened to Marina’s story and helped putting it all on paper.

I was a bit surprised she wrote her memoirs, I always thought of Marina as a conceptual artist challenging her audience with her performances and stimulating their imagination while experiencing her work and even sometimes letting het audience participate themselves. The number of performances she has done is impressive and her work speaks for itself, her work has been seen by a lot of people and gives inspiration to a lot of people, when you search the internet you can find a lot. So why writing memoires?

Marina is by far the most famous performance artist at this moment. When I followed a writing course last year in Amsterdam all three art students who were participating named Marina Abramović as their hero and example. This weekend I saw La Grande Bellezza from Paolo Sorrentino again in Spain and saw Marina Abramovic scene in which there is a performance done inspired on ‘Expansion in Space’ with she performed with her former partner Ulay. They both run into a heavy wooden column, Ulay did not finish this, Marina did. In “Walk through walls” Marina writes this performance was a turning point for both her work and the relation with Ulay. In La Grande Bellezza the performer runs into a stone column and when asked afterwards why she did this she replies: ‘I’m an artist, I don’t have to explain jack shit’. Having read the book I would say this is not true, Marina makes very clear what she wanted to say with her work in ‘Walk through walls’.

Before I read ‘Walk through walls’  I only knew Marina’s performances from photo’s and video’s, know that I have read the book I always will think about what I have read about these performances in her memoirs. In an interview with BBC Newsnight in June 2014 she complains about a painting of Francis Bacon which was just sold for 146 million, the highest price paid for a painting at that moment: ‘How can you see possibly ever this painting again without seeing money in the front, the essence of the painting is now lost’. With writing this book she is exactly doing the same, should her work not speak for itself? Why does she wants to give us a chronological overview of her life and work and explain the who, what, where and how of her performances? I was curious and bought her book and started reading it.

In the first chapter of ‘Walk through walls’ Marina tells she was lying on the grass one day while she was young staring at a cloudless sky and saw twelve military yets flying over leaving behind white trails in the sky which disappeared after some time. At that moment she was already painting and thought, when looking at this, that art could also be multidimensional and temporary just like what she just saw. She went to the military base in Belgrado and asked if they could sent planes up and fly in a pattern she created. The first idea for a performance was born: multidimensional, temporary and constructed by herself before with a predicted outcome.

Another thing important in her work was pushing her limits and investigating how far she can go with her performances and, which sometimes were very violent when she started which created a lot of attention to her work, nowadays they are more about spiritual enlightenment. Marina is only interested in investigating ideas in her performances which make her afraid and challenge her deepest fears and emotions: a performance is, according to her, a construction where you go from your lower self to your higher becoming more conscious when you challenge yourself and the public around you. And in case of Marina she and her performances have becomes the object of her art and become one.

Another important explanation for her success is her large network. First in Yugoslavia, then Amsterdam and now in New York she has always been surrounded with others artists, collectors, curators, gallery owners etc. which inspired her and helped her become successful. When reading her memoirs  it made me think about Mark Rothko, both came from Eastern Europe to New York, were a long time earning their money as art teachers and both tried to educate their audience and learn how to experience their work. And both were constantly developing themselves while other artists around them were repeating their work over and over again once they were successful.

When Marina started with her first performances in the sixties other conceptual artist were already busy with this new genre and Marina had become over the years the symbol of this performance art for two reasons: first she kept developing herself where most others stopped and second she tried to define a methodology around performances structuring the performance process itself leaving no room for unstructured performances.  She founded the Independent Performance Group (IPG) and trained art students from all over the world in her performance methodology. Marina Abramović developed this methodology performances to make performances repeatable and independent from the artist. She herself did performances constructed by others taking care the original artist got paid, a difficult think to realise. Later in her carreer she broadened het scope to her whole public tried to involve her public in the performance itself and founded the Marina Abramović Institute which gave trainings in performance art open for all.

I liked reading Marina’s book, it gave a good overview of Marina’s life and work and there is a lot in it which it interesting to read about. What I don’t like is the constant flirting with her spiritual qualities like being able to predict things and read someone else’s mind. I believe a performance can give you insight in your unconsciense which can help you better understand yourself and the world around you. And Marina’s performance art can give you new insights just like a therapy from a psychiater or a training from a mental coach.  But maybe, as being male, I first need to break through my mental ceiling before I can open up for these vibrations just like women first need to break through a glass ceiling before they can have influence in the rational world. And of course Marina is doing it her own different horizontal way walking through walls…

The Online Communication Cycle

‘Why are you writing in English’, Simone asked me. She had told me Victor had read my blogs about politics, business and IT on the internet which were sometimes in English. I told her I had two reasons for this: it gave me a broader audience and having worked for an English company where I learned to write compact English and liked doing this. ‘And why don’t you focus on one topic, you are writing about such a lot of different topics’. I answered: ‘Having studied Sociology and having worked a long time in IT I have always been interested in how the world was changed by IT, not only from a business point of view but also regarding their personal lives. And as Lecturer Information Management I also teach students about this and tell them about my personal experiences during the lessons and my view on this.’

She wanted to know more about my visit to Sedona and how I met Victor so I told her about the Resurfacing workshop and our discussion on the airport waiting for our planes because of the heavy snow delaying our flights. The reason I participated in this workshop was that I wanted to investigate if I could use this format as a lecturer. ‘I like to do things which in first instance don’t have anything to do with my work but there is always a new perspective which helps me further developing my thoughts. Just like the conversation I had with Paul last week on his startup: I was not sure yet how I could use this but I feel this could in the future. I explained her what we discussed the week before.’

Simone replied: ‘The problem with most people nowadays is that they are confused because of the fact so much is changing all the time. The media are focusing on hypes which are coming up quickly but also ending quickly and soon forgotten. And as most of these hypes have a negative background most people think were are going in the wrong direction. But if you look at it from a scientific and historical point of view we are steadily doing better al the time. The Swedish physician, academic, statistician, and public speaker Hans Gosling made a lot of statistics in which he proofed were are doing better than most people expect, he died a few days ago, a terrible loss for science.’

‘Victor’s communications paradox has to do with the fact that the way we interact and communicate with our environment is rapidly changing and that our mind is not able to cope with this, we are not in the drivers seat any more but constantly reacting to what’s happening around us. Direct one to one communication is now being replaced by new ways of communication and the big difference with the old way of communication is that in the past, when you were communicating with someone, the message was key and you were using verbal and none verbal communication to interact. Now, while the internet has become available you can easily communicate with all people allover the world using channels as Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat.

This way of communication is new for most people (Facebook exists only 13 years) and we don’t know yet what the real impact of communicating through these channels will be. This impact can be both positive, your tweet or post can go viral and become a hype, or negative in the sense that a wrong post can change the way others see you. That’s why mots people have their personal brand in mind when they communicate and respond when communication is not in line with this. That’s the reason most people don’t create content themselves anymore but are constantly responding and having an opinion on what others have to say by liking, sharing and replying, I call this spinning.’ She showed me a picture from Victor’s book how this has changed.’

‘As you can see in the picture online communication is more complex than direct communication and not everybody’s has the skills and is able to manage this process successfully. It starts with having a good picture of your identity and this can, especially when your young, become a big problem: when receiving negative feedback this can make them very unsure. Channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become very important and have big impact on the way we communicate and the way we receive information.’

I responded: ‘True, and that’s why, according to me, you cannot talk about social media anymore as most people do. Technology made communication channels available and these have completely changed the way we communicate with each other and this development has just started and already high impact. From a sociological point of view this new ‘Online Communication’ can never replace ‘Direct Communication’ but it has changed it. And it will never change back to the days before we got our own PC or Smartphone, it’s here to stay. And what we need to learn our students now is what the value of these ways of communication can be, what’s is their potential.’

‘Take for example the development of popular music since the fifties of the last century when we had only the radio and television and the LP was not there yet. Songs were about love and personal communication and the message in a song was always very clear and easy to understand. This has completely changed, it’s not about the text of the song and the music anymore but about the artist and his brand and management taking care the artist is in the news all the time. Ask someone what a song is all about and nobody knows.’

‘I have studied Sociology, what did you?’, asked Simone. ‘Me too’, I said ‘but that was more than 30 years ago before I started working in IT, I’m not familiar with the latest developments’. ‘But if I read your blogs I’m not listening to an IT guy talking but to a Sociologist who is talking about the changes in society due to the Internet, why don’t you write something from your old Sociology background, I think the publisher I work with would be very interested’. She is right, I thought, what I’m writing about is not a structural analysis but just a reflection on what I experience and read somewhere, a more structural approach using the sociological body of knowledge would make sense.

While drinking our wine we discussed what an interesting subject would be from a sociological point of view and agreed after some time it would be interesting to look how our view on the world around us has changed since the massive introduction of new ways of communication made possible by the internet. ‘Interesting subject’, I replied to her, ‘I will think about it and let you now how I would approach this but this will take time’. ‘Take your time, she smiled, ‘and in the meantime let me know once in a while how you are doing…’.

The Information Funnel

Two days later I received a phone call from Victor, he was in Amsterdam for a few days and wanted to meet me, did I have some time the next evening? He wanted to discuss something with me. I had already planned to go to Amsterdam to the University so we made an appointment at 18:00 in the American hotel, my favorite place to meet someone in Amsterdam. When I arrived, Victor was not alone, he was sitting at a table overlooking the Leidseplein and talking to a women of his age with long blond hair. When I approached, Victor introduced me to her as his Sedona friend and introduced her to me as Simone, the translator of his books into Dutch.

He was talking to her about his new book ‘The Communication Paradox’ which he already explained to me while waiting on the airport about impact of the changes in our communication infrastructure which took care we never had so many means of communication as before while at the same time direct one to one communication becomes harder for us, especially for young adults who are not able to communicate easily which causes a lot of stress and psychological problems for them. After this he looked at me and said to me: ‘and that’s why I asked you to join us, maybe you could help solving the problem.’.

I told him I was surprised and Victor smiled and continued ‘Working on my book I realised I was only describing a problem but not working on a solution and last week I remembered our recent conversation and that you told me you were lecturing Information Management to students, the same students who I describe in my book having all these problems. I want to know more about what your lecturing. What is the definition of Information Management according to you?’.

I responded: ‘Key for Information Management is that business nowadays have more and more IT available in which continuously data are stored about their customers, sales, inventory, distribution and financial situation but also data from the outside world available through external sources and the Internet. Information Management is the skill to translate all this data to useful information which makes it possible to manage your business, I call this the Information Funnel. There is so much data available that it’s not easy to do this, you not only need to understand IT but also the business of a company and understand what is going on inside and outside the company’.

‘Why do you call it a skill’, Victor asked. ‘Well’, I told him, ‘Twenty years ago Management Reporting was 90% plus financial and most of the time only available after month ends closing. If something went wrong in an organisation it ws only noticed when a customer had a complaint or your bank did not want to give you credit any more. Today changes go so fast that managers want information as soon as available and if possible direct online, stand and ad hoc. To be able to produce these dashboards and reports you need to know a lot about a company and be experienced’.

‘And what happens when companies not have a good Information Management Function?. Victor asked’. ‘Then you have a problem’, I responded, ‘It’s like a patient being sick and not having the right instruments available to investigate what’s wrong. Management Information gives you the insights on what’s going right and what’s going wrong so you can immediately take action when needed to change things for the better, if possible. In the past this was a role for the CFO but this has changed with the introduction of IT and is now more the domain of the CIO who does not only have to know about IT and needs to have broad business knowledge being able to combine both to usefull Management Information’.

‘Students have the same problem as companies nowadays, how can they structure all the digital data they receive so it becomes useful information for them? Digital overload is a big problem now for students, they are not able to filter the content which comes available all the time on the internet properly which can have big influence on their future performance’, Victor concluded. ‘Within companies the CIO is responsible for managing this information funnel and for students this of course should be the teacher and as you teach Information Management you are sitting on the solution of our problem’.

Since three years I was lecturing students the basics of Information Management on a private University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam mainly from a manual yet like in the old days when only books were available. And during my lessons when all my students were busy with their smartphones and laptops multitasking between me and what was going on online. The manual I used ‘Information Management’ was clearly written by someone who had worked in IT because I recognised a lot described in my book as my own experiences in the past working for IT companies. And my students were not interested in these old stories because they were born in a world with IT all around them while I had slowly grown into this from nothing.

Victor looked at me and said: ‘ And you teachers could be the key for solving this issue, there is a task for schools and universities to prepare students for the information society certainly in a time when politicians talk about ‘alternative’ facts and everybody is creating his own Facebook environment filtering out post they don’t like’.

‘But how do you want to do this’, Simone asked. Victor relied: ‘Maybe a school is not the right solution for this, we need something to replace this which is more modern and fit for our Information Society. The reason why schools were founded in the first place was that families were not able to educate their children themselves and you need teacher to learn them how to read, write and calculate. Children were living in large families and lived in small homes so going to school made sense in these days. Since then a lot have changed, most children now have a room on their own and parents both working and the relationship between parents and children has changed a lot’.

‘My students spend on average 7 hours on school and 4 hours a day online next to the time they spend online at school,’ I responded, ‘and for them these are two differente worlds. If you want to change this you need to change the whole school system and integrate these worlds into one and make more connections with the outside world. Why only go to one school and sit in a room with the other students and always the same teacher and following an education developed for the average student? Why not making this more flexible and use all available capacity with courses for students with different backgrounds and levels?’

‘Research has shown that collaborative learning works better than learning on your own, this has to do with the way your brain works. Another interesting conclusion is that you can better stay up late to finish a deadline than start early in the  morning, the time most schools want you to be the most productive. Also most teachers start with the theoretical concepts and than apply these while it’s better to first do something and than reflect on this form a theoretical background if you want to learn.’

‘Another important issue which influences learning is the changing relationship between students and their parents. It depends of course on the educational background of their parents but a lot is nowadays discussed around the kitchen table. 25 years ago students learned stuff not understood by their parents because the study content was more theoretical. Nowadays the study content is much more up to date and so students can easier discuss the content with their parents which makes it easier for them to learn’.

‘And just like companies need to manage their Information Funnel, students have to learn also how to qualify all the information they receive through their devices whole day and integrate this with what they learn on school or universities, this are not separate worlds but complementary. They have to learn the difference between facts and fake facts, an opinion and something which is scientific proven and how you can filter information which is relevant for you. They need to not only to see their smartphone as a tool to play with when they have noting to do but also as an instrument to become a useful member of society. Most schools see these diverse as a threat while it should be an opportunity.

‘In the Netherlands the school system is not able to educate around 15.000 students because their parents cannot find a proper school for them or schools don’t want them because of a lot of reasons. Around 5.000 of them have permission to get education at home from their parents  or private teachers giving lesson at home. At the same time the number of students who need extra lessons after schooltime from specialized institutes is growing and the same is happening for private schools were parents have to pay a lot of money to give more tailored education fit for the students needs.’

‘That’s why I thing we need to rethink the fundamentals of our school system’, Victor said, ‘We should develop a flexible system for all by which during once lifetime we van learn or teach others the necessary knowledge and skills to become a citizen, employee or owner of a business using all available methods and technology. If you define a school now a student now will say it’s a combination of a building and a set of teachers capable of giving lessons in a certain domain. This should be a student with certain qualifications who has to learn some things otherwise he/she can’t survive in society and invest in other qualifications he enjoys doing and which can potential become his future business. And the tools to do this can be having a course in a class with a teacher a a level and location of choice, following a virtual course, doing a study trip or internship, earning study points with a public service, travel and write an essay on your experiences, participating in an online knowledge community, doing a skills test, talking to a study coach, visiting a museum with their parents or talking to an entrepreneur or even start up your first business’

We talked about this for some time and Victor left around ten, he had to fly back next morning very early, I stayed behind with Simone. He was very glad with our discussion and it was very useful for him.

Protect or Die

Looking back, I was busy with the wrong issues those first twenty days of 2017. I had not foreseen the impact of the big changes which were coming. As soon as Donald Trump was inaugurated he started signing executive orders which were changing the worldwide political landscape significant. A few days after he took office I got a phone call from someone I did not know and he asked me if I was available for a meeting, he wanted to discuss something with me. We planned to meet in a restaurant in a small town not far from where I live.

He was already there when I arrived and he introduced himself as Paul. I started with introducing myself and told him about the projects I was running at the moment. After this, I asked him what he wanted from me. He started explaining his background, he had been in the Dutch army for a long time in a ‘technical’ function and had done assignments in Bosnia and Afghanistan and was now working in IT as a security expert. He still had a large network of ex-soldiers around him and participated in military training sessions all over the world. They did these trainings in secret because bad publicity was not what they wanted, they just wanted to practise their skills and meet old friends.

He had read my blogs on the International Police training Lowlands Grenade  in Marnehuizen in the North of the Netherlands. I participated during this training as an actor in June 2014. I was there for 5 days and really liked it working together with delegations of national police from 42 countries which were training there and showing each other their capabilities and skills. There were police from the US, Israel, Ukraine, Spain, the UK etc..

Working together with those policemen and women was big fun and most of the time I was walking around looking at what was happening and once in a while I was asked to play a role. I remember I had to play the role of Vice President of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment  (CPT) and drove around protected by an Lithuanian SWAT-team and an Hungarian CRC-team and visited the prison and a police station (PSS) interviewing staff there. I was impressed by the professionalism of all participating but also the friendship between the participants with these different backgrounds and had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the way they work and the technology they used.

After we discussed this Paul told me about his plans. He and his friends were very worried about the developments now happening worldwide with the election of Trump, the Brexit and the conflicts in the Middel East. They were discussing the impact of this and were investigating  what their role could be in this changing political and military landscape. He referred to the first meeting between Donald Trump and Theresa May who agreed that: “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.”

The impact of this would be that probably the number of local conflicts would increase and he expected a lot of demand on the short run for companies who could protect civilians and objects on a commercial basis. Most European countries have not invested enough in military material and capacity the last 20 years and are now facing a world in turmoil with big problems in the Middle East and Africa and potential new conflicts at locations we are not aware of yet. They need to respond to this and build up their own capacity but this will taken some time and in the meantime they need to do something to protect their citizens. 

Paul was busy with investigating if starting up a company for this in the Netherlands was possible and for this he needed some “citizens” next to the military from his network who could help with the administrative but also the ‘selling” of this company external. In the US and UK have already a lot of private military contractors (like Blackwater) working closely together with their government but there are none in the rest of Europe. This has to do with the fact that there is no political foundation for such an initiative but, according to Paul, this could change on the short run when conflicts escalate and protection is needed. He asked me if I was interested in helping setting this up with his team, he needed someone who did not talk in military terms and was able to talk to politicians and explain why this company was useful and not a threat for the official military institutions. The primary objective of this company would be to protect people and objects and do this in a professional way with high moral and ethical standards.

I was very surprised by this question, why had he contacted me? How did he now about my background? Was he maybe part of an Intelligence Service testing me?  I told him I would think about what he said and give him my feedback later. Under normal circumstances I would have never had done this but the things happening at that moment made me change my mind because of course we need to protect ourselves from the bad guys.

The Communication Paradox

Victor’s communication paradox was about the problem that, while IT has developed more and more channels of communication for us (WhatsApp, Facebook etc.), growing up has become more and more difficult four young people nowadays and that they experience a lot of stress and problems while developing themselves. Victor called this the Information Paradox which he further explained to me.

The last decade we have created a new world next to the real ‘Physical world’ and ‘Fantasy World’ which can be called the ‘Online’ world and which is always available when you have access to a device with Internet connection. And, when going ‘Online’, you can influence your ‘User Experience’ and create your own environment and manage your content. You can, for example, only invite the friends you like on your Facebook or WhatsApp account or filter the information you like on your screen creating your own virtual world. This world also enables you to watch movies, play games and listen to music on your own and forget the world around you, it’s your unique and individual experience.

The current generation of students are the first-generation students who have grown up with constant access to the Internet. It’s not possible to explaining IT to them without considering their ‘Online’ perspective. And the funny thing is that most teachers have grown up without ICT and learned to use it at a later age. Our students don’t know how the none-connected world looked like 25 years ago before Internet was invented so you could better explain them how communication was done those days than explain how it works now.

You can compare being online with freedom: it doesn’t mean anything to those who have it but once taken away you know what it is! Of course, the new generation has experienced what it is to have no Internet connectivity. For most students this is a threat and creates stress, not an opportunity to relax. The way we communicate has changed, for example: when you take the train everybody is staring at their smartphone, in schools students check their smartphones between lessons instead of talking to each other and at home WhatsApp has replaced picking up the phone.

To investigate how young people use social media Victor asked a group of students two questions: 1) how many posts did you create yourself last week and 2) how many times did you respond to post posted by someone else. Regarding the first question most of them posted rarely something new: on average, only once a week a new post. But replying and sharing is done multiple times per day. Summarizing his findings: young people don’t create content themselves but are busy responding and having an opinion on what others publish online building their online identity.

Direct one to one communication is replaced by this new way of communication and the big difference with the old way is that in the past, when you were talking directly with someone, only the people around you were involved. Nowadays potentially the whole world can read your post which can go viral and become a hype before you know it. So doing something wrong online can have more impact now.

Our whole communication has changed significant and this makes especially young people, who are by nature very unsure, vulnerable for stress and psychological problems. And because your ‘Online World’, which you created yourself, is always available: you can escape from the ‘Real World’ to this ‘Online World’ . And the old ‘Fantasy World’ has become less important and is now underdeveloped at the expense of developing your own creativity. Direct communication is becoming difficult and even has become art like Marina Abramović performance in the MoMA in New York where she is only watching visitors in their eyes: direct none verbal communication reduced to object of art.

The only way to solve this is was developing training courses for young people in old fashioned communication skills and that’s why he was in Sedona to investigate if this course we did could be used. He concluded this was not the case, the format was to old fashioned and would not appeal young people. We did not have much more time to discuss this but we agreed we would in a few weeks and further discuss this, London after all was not so far from Amsterdam.

During my flight back home I had time to think back on what happened since New Years Eve, now two week ago. Next week I had to start working again, boring…

The IBM AS400

Flying back from Sedona I was thinking back on New Year’s Eve and my days in Sedona. During the course, I became friends with one of the other participants, Victor, a writer from the UK, and we spend time together on the airport there were delays because of the heavy snow which was fallen which caused the planes bringing us back home were rescheduled. Victor started writing when he was 12 years and published his first book at age 21: “The story Of Tess”. Only 36 he had already published 5 books, which were well received, and wrote a daily column in an English newspaper writing about social and political issues. He was flying back to Amsterdam where he had a large meeting planned with his readers in Hotel Americain and he was constantly in WhatsApp’ing his publisher hoping he would be back in time.

Reflecting on my own journey so far I was jealous on what he had accomplished. Before I started working in IT I had tried out al kind of jobs because I did not know what I wanted to become and, that is still my problem now. When I finally started working in IT at 30 this was just an easy way of earning money which I needed because my wife was pregnant and it was nice having earning money in an easy way and driving a company car: around 1980 it was very easy to get a job in IT without having the proper qualifications.

I remember being trained in Belgium as a software programmer where I was looking at a screen whole day with code and was certified after three weeks because at the end of the day I was still looking at the screen when everybody was gone. This was what the software company I was doing the training expected from me: give the impression of working and making long days so these could be billed to the customer, customers did not have any knowledge of IT in these day and you could sell them everything,

After some time, I became friends with one of the partners who always was the last to leave the building and appreciated a good glass of wine. The one thing I remembered from him is that he advised me to always wear a suit and tie and polish my shoes when wanting to make a career in IT. When I finished the course, he took care I was assigned as a software programmer to an IBM reseller who developed software for the AS400 computer designed to support medium sized companies. One day, still staring at the screen and not being productive at all, the manager of the company came to me and asked who of the programmers knew something about finance. Because nobody gave a response and I had learned you did not have to know anything at all in IT I said I was interested: after all I had done accounting on High school and had trained students in accounting during my studies. So after working as a software coder for three weeks I became instructor and in three months project manager, in no time I got a bigger car and a laptop.

On my first assignment with a customer I drove to the south to a laboratory which had just bought an AS400 and where IBM had done the implementation of the computer and the cables, and the screens. I walked in with three software tapes under my arms, introduced myself and was guided to the computer, uploaded the tape, looked at the screen and typed in INSTALL FIS and the computer started doing all kind of things. Time for me to start drinking coffee with the Finance Manager who was just appointed as IT responsible and also knew nothing about IT.

I asked him if he had any requirements about the new financial package and he did not have a clue: as long as the package worked as he was used to it was OK for him! When I asked him for documentation he told me they did not have this so I asked him to put this on paper and send this to me and made a new appointment with him in a week: too early for him and we agreed he would do this in two weeks. My first lesson: always take care next action is with someone else! After 6 hours, the software was installed and the start screen came up: time to leave and my boss could bill 8 hours to the customer: my first invoice for only drinking coffee and let others do the work!

Of course, he did not send me the requested description so I went there again, asked him for a list of account numbers, showed him how to enter them in the system, asked him to add them all before next week, had lunch and went back home after half a day. I had a list of 24 steps to be done before the system was ready to be used and it took almost 4 months before we finished them all and my boss was very happy for all the hours spend and invoices send. When I did not know something, I phoned a colleague and when this took also some time to investigate his or her hours were billed also.

I remember one customer very well who lived in my home town and, after we did the implementation, told me he and his partner both had a budget for external lunches but that he, as financial manager, did not have enough contacts to spend this. Because he also wanted to be out of the office weekly he asked me to lunch with him Fridays at his expense. For more then a year I went to the restaurant on my bike at 12:00, had lunch untill 15:00 and went home afterwards sending him an invoice for the whole day, an relaxed ending the week for me…

My boss was very happy with  this arrangement and toke care the manager got a laptop, the first one in his company. I give him some private lessons how to work with it at our office because he did not want his employees to say he did not know how to work with a laptop.  One day he called me and told he erased his computer by typing in DEL a:*.* an asked me to come to the office after working time to restore the software. If you know a little bit how IT worked when companies were first confronted with IT you could have a lot of fun and you did not need to know too much to become an expert and successful IT professional. Three years ago, after having worked for almost 30 years in IT, I stopped: time for a new challenge although I was still teaching Information Management to students who liked my stories on IT a lot.

While discussing this with Victor he said this description of the starting days of IT looked like the current impact of social media on society. While the first IT revolution was changing the way we work social media are changing the way we communicate, not only in the public but also in the private environment: while I was having lunch 30 years ago with my customers now the new generation is communicating through WhatApp and Facebook with it’s customers all over the world and which they maybe even had never seen. Social media have big impact and has changed the way we communicate significant, he wrote a lot about this issue in his columns. The reason he participated in the ‘Resurfing” course was he wanted to know learn more about this methodology because he was writing an essay on the modern communication paradox.

Resurfacing

The week after I flew to Sedona US for a two-day self-development course after being invited by an old colleague. I had some time free on the days of the course, had been in Sedona before and knew it was one of the best places to be in the US. The course was about “Resurfacing”, a technique which aimed to explore your conscience and in the end be the master of your own free will, just what I needed now to define my own Moon project!

When I presented myself at the registration desk in Sedona the lady behind the desk told me I did not pay the whole amount for the course: it was 12.000$ instead of the 1.200$ which I already paid. I was furious because I knew for certain in the invitation I received from my old colleague it stated 1.200$ for the two days and I would not have participated for this amount! I asked the lady to talk to the manager in charge of the workshop and after a few minutes a short bold guy came to me and gave me a cup of coffee and listed to what I had to say without giving me an answer on my questions. He kept smiling and told me he would talk to the legal department and could give me feedback afterwards on what he could do for me.

In the meantime, the workshop started and I had to decide what to do: stay and participate or leave. I decided to stay and participate, after all I was interested in the topic and had traveled a long distance from home. At the beginning of the workshop I met the other participants and I was assigned to a group of twelve people of which 6 were mentors and 6 participants, to my surprise my mentor was the old colleague who invited me for the course, I did not know he was invited also! 4 of the 6 ‘normal’ participants also complained on the price but we did not have much time to discuss because the workshop started and I decided to make my mind free of external stuff so I could concentrate on the course.

The next two days they kept us busy with all kind of exercises, some one to one with the mentors and some with the group. We started the course with identifying our earliest memories and life changing experiences and reflecting on what what we thought were our key drivers and ambitions, a mix of techniques I already experienced before and new ones. The mentors were all experienced master and guided us through the course with a personal approach and were alle ‘Believers” in the methodology developed by the inventor Robin Tree, a former teacher. The key objective of Robin was that by exploring the world of your mind, starting with introspection on your own experiences and connecting them to your beliefs, you will be able to get insight in your identity and will de enable you to set direction to your own life and be in control of your future.

That evening we had some time for ourselves as participants of the course while the mentors were sitting together somewhere else. During the day some of the participants had left the course and, because we were busy all day, we did not know why. In the restaurant I spoke to some other participants and they were all first time attanders and were very positive about the course although some complained on the quality of the mentors who guided them, for some this was the first time, luckily my mentor was very experienced. Only one complained about the money and thought it was a mistake because she knew others who had done the course before and had not complained about it.

Next morning we started with an evaluation of first day and this was for me the opportunity to ask the mentors when we would get feedback on the costs of the course, they were very surprised and did not know there was a problem. My mentor asked me to look at this “problem” from another perspective and ask myself the question “what is this course worth for you?”. If the course would cost nothing would it have the same value for you as if it was very expensive? If the course  would change your life in the sense that you would stop working at your current very well paid job and start a new adventure without a potential high income but more in line with your ambitions would it still be an interesting investment for you? And, if you look back, do the moments in your past life you made choices which changed your life structural had anything to do with money?

At the end of the day I concluded that is was good having done this course and not let me be influenced by the money problem. When checking out I met the short bold guy who I spoke to at the beginning of the course and he introduced himself as Robin Tree, owner and developer of the “Resurfacing” methodology. He told me he would not insist on paying the 12k $ but that I was free of course to pay more if the course was more worth than I thought before participating: on avarage participants of his course valued it ten times higher after then before. It was also a good methodology to ‘shake out” the participants early during the course who were to much focussed on the money and were not able to open their mind. I agreed, without this issue i would have been more relaxed and less focussed, pressure sometimes helps when you want change..

Waking Up

Woke up this morning with a terrible headache not knowing where I was and how late. I did not recognize the room and also noticed I did not sleep alone: it could not have been that bad yesterday… While slowly recovering I remembered I had stayed New Year’s Eve with friends in the Northern part of the Netherlands where it’s always cold and windy, the houses suffer from the increasing number of earthquakes and the people were still eating potatoes every day.

I spend the evening before talking and drinking about our lives, politics and achievements (as far as we had them) and ended the evening drinking champagne and toasting on what 2017 could bring us. We, all around sixty years old, came together every year on New Year’s Eve to talk with each other and I realized waking up that our view on the world had never been as negative as this time and our ambitions had also never been so low.

Although everybody was talking about disruption nowadays society was making things not easier for us and telling us all the time what to do and what not to do: almost all things we liked to do were under discussion: drinking alcohol, celebrate “Sinterklaas” (a Dutch children’s festivity), Christmas and making a firework at midnight on New Year’s Eve. While we were young in the sixties we were fighting for our liberty and wanted more freedom and now we were defending old values, funny how things can change…

While shaving I suddenly realized myself we did not talk about our goals or objectives like we did when we were young. What happened to us we were now so negative and low on our ambitions? When I was 14 years old in 1969 my father woke me up at night to watch the first men walking on the: a life changing experience for me! At that moment, I thought it would be possible to walk on the moon also. Over the years I understood this was not a realistic ambition. But why not define a new ambition I thought while shaving?

Walking downstairs for breakfast I decided that I would start finding a new ambition for 2017 and would call this “The Moon Project”. Downstairs I found all sitting around the kitchen table having breakfast and started asking questions but did not get answers back I did not expect. Driving back home that afternoon I decided I needed to broaden my scope and first further investigate the first moon landing, what made this so successful and why can’t we do this again  easily? Having done something should make it easy to repeat 48 years later seen the current status of technology.

The next morning I did a quick scan on the Internet on what was the most crusial succes factor for the Apollo project and was triggered by the role of Margaret Hamilton, the MIT lead software engineer who was responsible for the writing the software code. Without this code it would not have been possible to land safely on the moon. At the end of 2016 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama for her work, not only for the Apollo Project but also because she invented the concept of software engineering.

Just three minutes before the Apollo Moon lander landed on the Moon several computer alarms were triggered. The Moon lander computer was overloaded with interrupts caused by an incorrectly power supply to the lander’s rendezvous radar. Hamilton’s software indicated “executive overflows”, meaning the computer could not complete all of its tasks in the available time and had to postpone some of them. The software allowed the computer to cope with this problem by prioritising the tasks to be completed and doing only the most important ones. . Hamilton’s priority alarm warned the astronauts there was an emergency and executed the crucial tasks without blocking the system. Always wandered why it took so long before they came out of the Apollo: the board computer still had to execute the taks not yet done…

Maybe that’s our problem, I thought, we are doing to much and can’t really prioritise, that’s why we have such a poor outcome as society. What the Apollo case learned me is that it’s not enough to have an ambition and clear goal which is easily to communicate but you need also to have the right people with the right mindset and skills to execute the tasks. If one of the two is missing you will not realise your objectives.