Monday, November 24, 2008

How to Start a Blog

I have some simple advice to those of you out there who are interested in starting your own blog.

First - pick a theme. What do you want to write about. A random variety of topics is ok if you can make that interesting. If you stick to one topic (for example, the beaches of Uruguay) you are much more likely to build a regular readership. Comments and support from regular readers provide a lot of encouragement and momentum to a blog.

photo courtesy of T. Mehta.

Second – be regular. Post several times a week. To some degree quantity matters more than quality. Be prolific and your readers will thank you for it. Spending tons of time editing is wasted time. Everyone loves pictures.

Third – publicize. Mention your blog to anyone you think will be interested. This is how you build a base of readers. Some fraction of people will visit the blog and some will become regular readers.

Fourth – spend some time every month thinking about how to improve your blog. Small improvements make it easier to read and make it look better. It is ok to experiment.

Most important of all, just do it. There is no proper or complicated way of getting started. Write an entry and post it.

Don't Forget the Roses

As I am heading into the final weeks here, pressure is increasing to bring my project to completion. In case anyone out there thinks that I am here on vacation, let me assure you that this has been very hard work. I have been working long hours, starting work every day at 8am and rarely leaving before 6 or 7pm. I don't write about this much because it is not very interesting and because not many good pictures come out of it. The only reason I have had the excellent experience I have had to date is because I have carefully separated work and play time. My weekends are free of work and I use that time to catch up on personal stuff, travel, etc.

All of the Fellows have been under a lot of pressure from day one to deliver. We must always be "on", ready to give advice or be pulled into a meeting or to try to communicate in Spanish. Your brain gets tired but it can also be energizing. You do learn that your limits are farther out than expected. Especially if you take the time to recharge.

I had the following document forwarded to me and I think it is excellent. It applies to everyone in today's world, no matter what you are doing. It did not have an author cited, if you know who wrote this please let me know so I can properly give them credit.

Have you noticed that things often take longer than they should?

Because of that, it's unwise to hang our emotional hats on the completion of any future events. Usually we don't see everything we are going to have to endure to complete anything of any consequence. It's smart to cultivate an attitude that gives us room to enjoy the surprises along the way toward completion.

I walk a fine line between identifying with a result I'd like to achieve, and just enjoying the process of getting there. As I've gotten older, out of necessity it seems that I've had to learn to relax a lot more about the end result, and build in more appreciation and fulfillment in just moving toward it.

Not to say that imagined results and outcomes are unnecessary--quite the contrary. They somehow are a natural extension of our creative energy that wants to express and manifest ourselves into this world. But I've found it to be tricky business to stay identified with the bigger me that's just doing the process, and the other me that gets wrapped around some future event or success, and feels somehow unworthy unless that future event or success is achieved.

In coaching project or departmental teams, I often challenge them to clarify the values or principles that they want to adhere to, in doing the work together. Typical answers would be high quality, customer service, timeliness, keeping agreements, alignment with corporate mission, etc. What seldom shows up without some encouragement are things like "have fun," and "ensure that we're all using the project to develop ourselves personally and professionally."

Most people and teams actually do consider those kinds of standards important. Some companies even list "fun" among their primary corporate values. However, having fun is seldom acknowledged or monitored. How often have you heard someone say something like this in a project meeting? "Wait a minute! We're not having fun. What do we need to do to get back on course with fun?!"

The quality of experience parameters are the ones that can make a project more meaningful all along the way. Even if the project gets changed or canceled - as often happens -- morale has not been totally hinged on some precarious future completion. It's possible to feel good about the project at every step, even if the final outcome doesn't turn out as expected. The quality of experience can be complete every day, no matter what surprises show up to affect the project's completion.

Every journey has flowers along the path. Maybe by stopping to smell the roses, we learn to see that the dandelions have a place as well. Your fondest memories will include as many vignettes about the process of getting somewhere, as the completion itself.

I've lately had to remind myself, with so many Seriously Important Projects that are taking a lot longer than I'd hoped to accomplish -- it's just a way cool journey, dude.

Bodega Santa Rosa con Endeavor

Last week Endeavor sponsored a dinner to celebrate the retirement of a prominent Uruguayan entrepreneur. The dinner was at the Bodega Santa Rosa and included a tour of the winery. Santa Rosa is over one hundred years old and has the look and feel of a very old, Napa Valley style winery. The most impressive part of the winery is the wine cellars. There are massive old oak barrels used to age the wine. Hundreds of vertical racks hold bottles of Medio Y Medio at a slightly downward angle. As we followed the tour our way was illuminated by hundreds of candles, which gave it all a magical feel.

The specialty is a local drink called Medio Y Medio, which literally translates to Half and Half. You may remember this drink from my earlier post about Mercado del Puerto where I had my first experience. It is one half champagne and one half sweet white wine. I prefer the combination to champagne alone, as it is much tastier and drinkable. Bodega Santa Rosa sells over 250,000 bottles a month during the holidays.

The tour ended in a large, open underground hall. There, surrounded by bottles of wine there were several speeches of which I understood not a single word. We enjoyed a delicious dinner and great company. I saw Professor Kramer from ORT University, whose class I presented to a few weeks ago. I met the man who introduced McDonalds to Uruguay. The General Manager and the CEO of Clausen were there and it was good to have some social time with them.

It was a special event and I feel very lucky to be treated so well by Endeavor and the business community here in Montevideo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cultural Learnings of Uruguay for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of America – Episode 2: Cars

Uruguayans do not replace their cars every three years as is common practice with many Americans. By looking at the traffic passing by, it is clear that the cars in this country live long, difficult lives. It is common to see cars from the 30's and 40's still out on the road. They are often held together with many coats of bondo, rust, lots of paint, and wire. Somehow though, the talented mechanics of Uruguay keep these vehicles still functioning long after they were intended to be trashed. The negative side to this is there are many cars on the road that are downright unsafe. Pollution control is minimal and a thick smog covers the roads during rush hour.

It always brings a smile to my face when I see a Festiva pass by. A Festiva was my first car and in my weak moments I dream of owning one again. At least now I know where I can get one in good condition.

A Return to School

I was recently asked to serve as the guest lecturer for a MBA Competitive Analysis class at ORT University in Montevideo, Uruguay. I enjoy lecturing, so I jumped at the opportunity and put many hours into my preparation.

My lecture was about many of the difficulties faced by small companies that are rapidly growing. I discussed the program that I am part of, the non-profit Endeavor, and why I am here in Uruguay. I used my experiences at Clausen as the case study for many of the difficulties. The lecture went very well and the students asked quite a few questions, all of them intelligent. It was a fun experience and it was the sort of opportunity that I was hoping to have when I submitted by Fellows application.

photos courtesy of T. Mehta

Sunday, November 16, 2008


It is interesting how some places you live leave a deep impression while others you can barely remember. Living now so far away, I have a lot of time and opportunity to ponder home and what it means to me. To question myself when I feel homesick, what and where exactly do I miss. Of course there are the people, but that is not what I am talking about. The people have and will always be the most important thing to me, but they have a way of moving on to new places and sometimes even new friends.

During my life I have lived in a number of places, none too exotic nor attractive to the outsider. I have lived in Rockledge PA (8 years), Newtown PA (10 years), Pittsburgh PA (13 years), and Dublin OH (2 years). Wedged in there was three months each in Porter Indiana, Dortmund Germany, and Montevideo Uruguay. Each of these places has colored who I am, though none really defines me. With the possible exception of Pittsburgh, I have never pointed to a specific place on a map and moved where I would like. As with most people, other circumstances (work, family, school) have determined where I live.

To flip that question on its head, if I were to be asked where I would choose to live if given the option I am not sure that I would have a ready response. Five criteria stand out in my mind, which are often conflicting. Low cost of living, amenities within easy walking distance or at least near good public transportation, very rural with lots of land for gardening and trees, lots of job opportunity, and near to family. These criteria have remained consistent for me over many years, though the importance of each has shifted in ranking year to year.

When I stand back and think about where my home is, Pittsburgh is immediately what comes to mind. I spent many years there and had many new important events in my life. It is where I discovered who I am and made many decisions that will shape the rest of my life. Beyond all that, Pittsburgh has a soul that I have not found in many other places. It is a city that has endured so much pain over the last 25 years as the steel industry has packed up and fled to Indiana, Asia and Eastern Europe. As a result, the people are somewhat damaged, but they are extremely genuine. It is a place where you can be yourself and people will let you be. You can still get a bowl of chili and two beers for $5. You can actually afford a nice house in a good neighborhood. There is also a new hope with the each generation of students who graduate and the few who decide to stay and try to make a go of a career in the place where no one does stay. It is also a very beautiful city, completely undiscovered by the tourists, much like Dortmund Germany. I think of the buses that labor up and down the green hills with houses impossibly clinging to the sides. Clear fall Sundays with the entire city excited about the Steelers game. People sitting on hillsides all over the city to see the fireworks explode over downtown.

I never identified with the old timers who told stories of how all Pittsburghers leave the city for better opportunity, and then spend the rest of their lives trying to return. I think I am starting to understand exactly what they mean.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Punta Carretas Shopping

During the application process and training for the EY CR Fellows Program they described an experience that necessitated a fair degree of roughing it. Tales of no air conditioning, dirty hotel rooms, sharing desks, being cheated at every turn, and the ever present threat of violence filled our heads. Uruguay is not a place I had ever considered coming to. I barely even knew where it was and could not pronounce Montevideo to save my life. In short, I had no idea what to expect.

You can imagine my surprise when I found that I am living in the best hotel in Montevideo with all the amenities you could hope for (including a bidet!!!). The food wasn’t the bad Mexican cuisine I had in my imagination. My office at Clausen is much nicer than my accommodations in Columbus. The people are friendly and only rarely have I felt that someone was trying to pull a fast one on me with money. This is anything but roughing it.

My hotel is connected to a beautiful three-story shopping mall with over 200 stores that could easily rival any nice mall in the US. Many of the stores carry familiar brands and anything I could need is there. A short walk and an elevator ride puts me in the mall without even exposing myself to the beautiful weather outside. There is a full grocery store on the ground floor of the mall where I can get my cookies, cerveza, y vino. There are three movie theatres in the mall, showing a total of eight movies at any one time, most of which are in English with Spanish subtitles.

Buenos Aires - Part 3

We awoke Sunday morning after only a few hours of sleep to see a few more important sights before catching the boat back to Montevideo. We were up late having a quick dinner after Senor Tango, and we did not get to sleep until around 3am. First stop was Caminito Street in La Boca a neighborhood on the edge of the river near the port. Caminito is known for its brightly colored buildings, which were originally painted that way because the owner did not have the money for full cans of paint and he used whatever he could get his hands on. Today, it is a huge tourist magnet, full of vendors hawking art, posters, keychains, mate bowls, etc. It was fun to see, but I was just as happy to get out of there as I was tired of listening to all the vendors yelling out “Aaay Ohhhyyyyyychio” trying to get my attention by reading the words on my Ohio State shirt.

We then dropped into the San Telmo neighborhood to visit the Sunday street fair, which was full of interesting flea market items. All old, interesting, and cheap. We scored by finding a chef selling calzones from a wheelbarrow that he just pulled from the oven. They were huge, full of big fresh tomato chunks, fresh basil, and cheese. We shared a beer in a bar that was anything but quick and ran for the last boat out of town.

photo courtesy of Becky G.

Getting back to Montevideo was a relief and the three of us were very glad to be back. A busy place like Buenos Aires is exciting but it can wear on your nerves. The laid-back, mate drinking, beach sleeping crowd in Montevideo are much more my speed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Buenos Aires - Part 2

Following our saunter through La Recoleta Cemetery, we took a tour of the major buildings in Buenos Aires. The Pink House is where the President of the country lives, and apparently where Evita gave a speech from one of the balconies. I didn’t see the movie, so I can neither confirm nor deny. It is a large pink building, not nearly as fancy as many, but it has its own charm and is a bold pink color in an otherwise grey city. Appropriately, there was a large gay rights festival in front of the building and an equal number of dark blue fatigue wearing Policia. The gay rights participants had a parade through town that attracted quite a bit of attention and gave us some good techno music to dance to as we later enjoyed a coffee at a small cafĂ©.

A beautiful church near the Pink House, perhaps it is also Congress.

Short ride on a historic wooden subway.

The most impressive building I saw was the National Congress building. It is beautiful, full of statues, soaring towers, walls full of interesting architectural details. We have a new game that we play as we tour new (and old) places. This game is courtesy of my fellow Fellow, Laura. She invented it, so I can not claims rights. Any time there is an interesting building I point to it and confidently state “that is Congress”. Anyone in the know thinks this is funny. People not in the know get out their camera and take pictures. Until the third or fourth time I do it and suddenly they realize that there can only be so many congresses. Try the game next time you are somewhere interesting and see how many tourists you can trick.
I found Congress!!!!

The Argentinian National Congress Building.

My new Argentinian Love.

Laura and I reenacting the Tango Statue. Damn I am good.

All of the streets are named for Countries. Excuse me, Will this street take me to Peru?

That night we went to Senor Tango. This was a tango show in true Disney world fashion, with horses, fancy lights, fog, and costumes. It was a show depicting the history of tango, which started in the brothels of Argentina and moved up from there. I didn’t expect to have a good time, but it was such a good show I think I am going to go back. Certainly it was a one of a kind experience that I do not think I could see anywhere else. The show lasted three hours and consisted of about one half dancing and one half music. The music was fantastic though and really got your heart racing. At one point I counted five accordions being played at the same time. They were so loud it shook my seat. Awesome.