Loosen or tighten? (The listening continuum)


Do we really listen to people? Of course, it is too easy to say yes, but… really really? When we’re listening to someone, do we realise that the other person is right from her point of view? Do we see how she has structured her world, the fundamental ideas that underpin her thinking, how the themes emerge from them, how the thoughts are constructed? I ask again, do we really listen?

The listening continuum is positioned between two extremes:

  • In one side, we can choose to “be taken over” by the story, falling in love, getting lost. Our world gets filtered by someone else’s lenses. That is loosening.
  • In the opposite side, we are there with a purpose. The more that we hear something that doesn’t fit in our agenda, the more we internally react, the more we internally tighten. Every word is filtered through our lenses. That is tightening.

You tighten when you read a work report. You loosen when you read a nice book. In the first case you have a purpose: to extract the relevant information. In the second case you open yourself to a new world, and enjoy.

This is why, when a friend is in need, you have to loosen first. To try to understand the other’s perspective, not to give advice, but to empathise. Otherwise you will never get it. As you will never get poetry, or you will not ever fully enjoy a book. Yes… you were trying to reach the end and to know what finally happened, but that was wasting a book too. You should have loosened.

That’s why no one can really enjoy a powerpoint. No matter how hard you try. It can surprise, impress, but make you enjoy? Open a new window of fuzzy tones to restructure your thoughts? Never ever.

Try listening credulously next time!


Beware the truth (evidence-based management)


Lately I have been observing a lot of cognitive dissonance. Okay, rather a strange way to start a post, let me rephrase: “people hear only what they want to hear”. Now it’s better.

Not really an universal truth, but true of those who don’t have an ordered mind. We all tend to interpret the bits of information that conflict with our view of the reality as “clutter” and those who fit with “truth”. Because otherwise we would be wrong somehow, and we would have to rethink, and that would entail consuming a lot of energy (up to 25% of your energy consumption assuming you, reader, are human), and our brain wants to preserve energy, right? Then our brain has a lot of interest in not changing what it already perceives as truth.

And specially for those in charge. How can they accept that they make mistakes? How can they see that they are not as good as they believe themselves to be? How can they understand in an environment which will adulate them no matter what that they are imperfect? They don’t. It’s always easier to blame the others, essentially the weaker ones.

Evidence-based management needs to come to the forefront. Take benchmarking as an example. We try to do something that has worked for another company. But do we think about the full span of assumptions that we’re doing? Was the thing that we’re copying the cause for the other company’s success? How does that value chain work exactly? Will it work in our case and why?

Even if we start compiling evidence, which only a few managers do, we may end having too much. And which evidence does really apply to our case? How are we sure we are seeing the causality links in the right way? Are we maybe focusing on the least relevant issue and ignoring the one that’s really paramount?

A doctor could never diagnose a patient without proper examination only based on previous experiences. Yet many managers do that every day. Does that make sense?

Even when you’re in a hurry and have the pressure to act quickly, encourage enquiry and observation. It is the right moment to do it, even when it feels quite the opposite.


Now it’s your turn to do what Anna Hazare did (and I don’t mean fasting)

Many people will not know who Anna is. Yet, without knowing him, everybody can sympathise with his cause: the crusade against corruption. Anna was on a fast to death with the only objective to get a less corrupt India, starting by officials, politicians and judges. And he wanted to see it written in a Parliamentary bill before he died. Finally it seems he will see it, and live as well.

Corruption means that a sizeable part of the resources of one country go to a few deep pockets taxing the future of the same country. Because the price to pay for corruption is much higher than the resources it drains. Losing the faith in the system means that less people will be entrepreneurs and more of them will fail. Means that many people will think of sending their wealth abroad just to protect it. The externalities of corruption are always very complicated to measure, but by all means they have a huge impact on a nation’s future.

Anna has made this country’s politicians to humble and start passing a bill against corruption. Bills are that, bills. Still they mean little if they are not properly implemented. When the viceroys of the Spanish empire got some law from the king that they didn’t like, they said “acatese pero no se cumpla” which means accept the order, and then do not implement. Another clever minister of the Spanish empire, Romanones, said “que otros hagan la ley, que yo haré el reglamento”: let others do the law, and I’ll write the rules for its implementation. Anna got an unanimous vote from those who first chose to ignore him, many of them too close to the corruption sin. Finally they decided to support him, but how will they implement, legislate, behave once this tide has gone away.

I wanted to use the Spanish reference to highlight that this is not only an Indian problem. But again, everyone must do its part. Anna did. But corruption on a massive scale cannot exist unless lots of people participate in it. Even more, it is necessary for a silent majority to tolerate it. Anna has, for once, resonated with this majority in order to make the complaint heard. The complain that is usually only whispered at work, or shared with friends in closed circles, now has been voiced aloud but, will it still be tolerated?

We all have to do something. Just as Anna did. But it’s not fasting. It’s about talking aloud. It’s about not profiting from corruption. It’s about whistleblowing. It’s about doing the right thing.

Business, Economics, Economy, Macroeconomy, MBA, Microeconomy, Private Equity, Thoughts

Dubai has financing troubles but… is it making a profit?

More than two years ago I was writing about Conspicuous consumption: from Thornstein Veblen to Jumeirah Palm. The reference to Dubai was almost mandatory of course. I’ve been to Dubai and I like the place. We all know that recently it has run into some trouble financing its debt. They are expecting a bailout from the United Arab Emirates which are playing hard to get.

My personal view is that they will get this bailout. Actually, I have little doubt of it. They must be now in the midst of a power struggle about how to manage all that. We have to remember that many western nations rushed to finance banks only to discover that they had forgotten to write down a few conditions in the contract about the remunerations to top managers and suddenly the public opinion cared more about those millions’ destination than for the rest of thousands of millions.

Leaving that aside, Dubai is similar to a long-term investing fund. In the long run you get your returns, not before. To manage it you need to be very cold, and not let the circumstances blind you.

But everything in Dubai is so shiny that it blinds you. That’s good for the brand, of course. So we have this dilemma: building shiny things maybe is not that good for the long run but, what else do you have to sustain your brand that very very shiny things?

No matter what happens now, the shiny brand is not so appetising anymore. And investors will think twice before risking again. I don’t want to compare Dubai to a Ponzi scheme, it is not, but to achieve the desired returns it needs to be able to sustain the investments arrival for a long-term period. Is it going to?

Since I’m not the Delphos’ Oracle I leave the reflection here. A small hint: it’s all about fundamentals. In the long run, an investment will survive and flourish if its a sound business. If we are dependent on a brand that requires too high a burning money rate, probably it won’t.

Having investors is a thing, when you lose them you can resource to forced investors (also called taxpayers) or stakeholders that have other interests (power in exchange for money, for instance) but, having a big enough profit for the expected yield, that’s another thing…

b-school, Henley, MBA, Personal

A kill is a kill (my MBA Integrated Management Project is finally done!)

Hectic days. I was in Oman for a presentation with a British company (I had so much fun, they are great and the experience was great, maybe one day…), and then a dozen days in India (trying to move forward the management centres for Delhi’s airport). I did also manage (although I don’t know exactly how) to finish two more assignments for my MBA, closing my second stage.

The biggest one was the Integrated Management Project: an assignment that spans three subjects: Global Business Environment, Strategic Direction and Corporate Finance and Governance. They must be all taken into account and integrated into one big assignment, having an holistic view and approaching the analysis through different angles. It’s about tackling some challenge for your company… analysing the context, creating strategy by means of thinking strategically and assessing the value that each strategic option is going to add.

In my case I analysed a proposal that Ryanair made to Barcelona’s Airport: establishing one of their operational bases there in exchange for a drastic reduction in fees. Studying the case took me lots of hours but it was really interesting as I began with a very specific point of view on what to do, influenced by my preconceptions and, through the systematic application of models and sound reasoning, reached very different conclusions. The intellectual journey was more than interesting. The conclusions as well. I could finally prepare a clear strategy for the airport while identifying the issues that must be changed internally. (Sorry I can’t publish my conclusions here publicly). The exercise was really useful as it provided me with the chance to reflect over my previous project, something we tend to obviate as we go straight ahead into new challenges.

Screen shot 2009-11-09 at 9 November | 11.53.30

This means I’ve completed the “Managing the organisation” and “Making business choices” stages, and I’m now facing the third stage “Making a difference” which includes Leadership, Reputation and the huge, scary “Management Challenge”. My proposal for the management challenge has been already accepted so I’m getting back on track. (more info about my management challenge quite soon)

Perfection would be great but, when you’re finishing assignments in airport lounges and while flying ten kilometres high, while living an hectic life, well… perfection means asking too much. My engineer side tells me to find a balance between time, cost and quality, a compromise to move forward. My economist side tells me to focus on substantiality, to choose the right granularity so that the figures are meaningful. That’s what I’m striving to do right now.

In those circumstances, a kill is a kill. Let’s move forward 😉

b-school, Henley, MBA, Personal, Thoughts

To boldly go where no man has ever gone before

The last workshop at Henley is over, and I’ve already started feeling that something is missing. Still in the Greenlands, it’s hard to interiorise that two and a half years of MBA have gone so fast. And with them the successful completion of a huge airport terminal, my first steps in India, and other huge, very relevant projects that have meant a qualitative leap in my career.


I still have a lot to go. Not only my Management Challenge that I’m starting now (If any expatriates in India want to participate, please contact me!), but also the assignments I still have to finish. And the decisions I may have to make to move my career forward can possibly entail a considerable amount of thinking.

This last workshop has been especially eye-opening. We’ve reached a degree of companionship with my colleagues that I never though possible. We’ve taken care, supported each other. I have to find a way to make it last, for this feeling to survive, for these links not to dim into oblivion. To my colleagues for their support through the process (that I still need for the next half year): thank-you.

And also to tap into the great reservoir of people that enrol in the Henley MBA. We had our last party along with a group of Henley Nordic that had their starter workshop. I was chatting with some of very interesting Swedish guys. By one side, they made me realise the march of time, on the other they also made me verbalise why it was worth it. Thank-you.

And to the staff, from support to feeding us, to motivating and pushing us out of our comfort zone to challenging our proposals and trying to dismount them. I can write no names as any list would be unjust but, thank-you.

Thanks to you all, and many more that have supported me from my personal sphere, I’m on my way, my own way, to boldly go where no man has ever gone before. My own personal challenge, my own special journey.

And to those reading this 🙂 sometimes I wonder how is it possible anyone could be interested in what I write, lest thousands. Thank-you 😉

India, MBA, Personal, Projects, Thoughts

New challenges (new continent, new airport, new terminal)

It’s been a while since my last post. Lots of things have changed. Suddenly I was pushed out of my comfort zone, something very healthy that we should experience once in a while and now, today, I realise this is the first day in weeks that I’m able to sit and reflect over what has been happening. And I also realise that a dose of personal development is what I currently need. You know my recurrent idea: it’s only when you reflect when you really learn!


So here I am, resting for a few days in an old strip of coast in Catalonia, a small thousand-year-old country that resists his identity to be dissolved into those huge empires of today and of the last centuries. This coast has witnessed countless invasions, and we’ve also invaded from here, made a Mediterranean empire and, as well, sent the boats that discovered America (yes, we did, although the Spanish Inquisition spent centuries to erase almost every trace of it, and to build a different story from another place that never had a good naval tradition, or good sailors, or even the willingness to discover anything).

But let’s not get into politics, and accept my apologies if I have offended anyone. After all the macro-economic data shows who works and who gets the subsidies in this unemployment prone Spain where some territories send the money for the others to keep procrastinating.

Sorry again. It seems that too much work has taken my knives out. Again, this is not about politics, it’s about entrepreneurship.

And I hate to boast, but this time I’m proud of having commissioned a terminal which with 544.000 square meters is the biggest in Europe, and, opposite to what happened in London or Madrid, it worked the first day. Yes, we did some things differently. Yes, we were also lucky. Yes, we learnt so many things in the process.

Well, the thing was that everything worked from day one. And kept working in day two, three, four and five…

On day six, I’m not sure what happened. I was on a plane. Day seven I was in India. Day eight I was starting a new project there. A local partner, new customer, new airport, new terminal, different continent, different culture, speaking in English 24/7, living in a different place.

And here I am still riding the wave. The beginning of a project is usually tough, specially when you got little time for the wheel to start spinning, specially when everything is different than what you used to have, specially when you’ve spent many years in a huge project, building a new airport from scratch, playing every role, mastering every trade.

This is what I wanted to share with you. I’ll keep blogging, this time from New Delhi, or Gurgaon. I’ll keep working, trying to have a small impact in another terminal: T3. I’ll keep learning, as I passed my MBA second year final exams, which happen to be the last ones. Now almost in my third year, I only need to finish an assignment for that.

And, in the meantime, Barcelona’s T1 keeps working 🙂

Next post next week, back in India…