Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly
Learning to Fly

I’ve long been of the opinion that flying long distances is the pinnacle of excitement and restlessness. First, flying to a new destination is the anticipation of a place that you have never been wrapped in hours of wait. It is like licking a tootsie pop slowly moving toward the tootsie roll goodness in the center. Then, the strange passing of time. How meals come when they are not expected. Just as you drift off into sleep someone taps you on the shoulder and you are brought back to consciousness by someone’s imminent need to pee.

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
Well the good ol’ days may not return
And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn

“Learning to Fly”
-Tom Petty, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

Even as I sit here in 17J, there is a map with a long trailing green line showing where we have been. The seemingly endless rotation of an up-to-date status flying across LCD screens conveniently placed throughout the cabin. Multiple pots begging to be watched, slowly moving toward a boil. Towards tea. Towards soup. Flying to Hong Kong. Were it not for the nearly imperceptible progress, I would think that this is my Groundhog Day. Were there a piano on the plane, now would be the time to search the passenger manifest for my piano teacher. 

The time ticks down from the teens of hours and now to 6. It makes me consider, if not for a moment, how big the earth really is. Yet we still fidget and fight over it. I don’t know that I will ever understand that. There is this whole big earth spread out under our feet, and there is something within a few, if not all of us: a desire that seeks to carve out a portion of it for ourselves.

Where did this start? Has it always been? That is, in part where perspective begins. This great commonality of imminent domain. The spread of people everywhere. Their culture and how we relate and interact with one another. This trip is an experiment in that. Both at a micro level with our MBA teammates and my friends, but also at a macro level immersed in the culture itself.

For the next 25 days or so, I am somewhat of a nomad. Moving place to place and logging just a few of the things that I see. Maybe I will capture some of it on video. I nearly let the word ‘film’ slip in there. Capture it on film… sigh. When you travel long distances in a plane you do lose track of time. In this case, whole days are skipped and sometimes I will make the inevitable word snafu.

The easy part leading up to this adventure has been the planning. Booking travel today is simple compared to 20 years ago. Today, a hotel is a few keystrokes away. 20 years ago, it was a magazine, a guidebook, or an agent directing you to your destination. What i am not sure that I am prepared for is the sharing of the experience. Writing about a trip as it happens is laughable in a world where everything is shared in 10 second clips and short Facebook and Twitter posts. This part is somewhat of an experiment. It is taking what will inevitably be shared in short bursts and capturing the feeling behind it. Only a few will take this dive with me and drop out of the short status burst and fall into an explanation.

It is part of the problem today, I think. How do you accurately explain the depth of a feeling in a short Facebook post. It will inevitably be experienced with incomplete information. How do you capture an experience so that it is experienced in depth? More than SnapChat, or Facebook. Twitter. Can you capture it in such a way as another person can taste what you taste? Feel what you feel without simple connotation. Identify with what is being felt? Is it possible to be a full proxy for another person?

It is not possible. But a longer explanation is needed sometimes. Sometimes you need a tour guide instead of the audio tour with headphones. Let’s try that for a bit, shall we?

Global Learning Opportunity

I’m about to embark on a global journey.

Allow me start with a call to action.  If you are enrolled in an MBA program, or any program that offers a global learning component, go for it! I’m told that the opportunity to study in another country and immerse yourself in another culture is unparalleled.  I’ve spoken with several prior participants who unanimously suggest is that it is a must have in order to round out your educational experience.

I didn’t have the means to study abroad when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. The reasons were numerous, and I won’t attend to them in this post, but suffice to say that it wasn’t a possibility for me at the time.  Now, I’m pleased to announce that, after completion of my MBA program this last month, I’m just one month away from a Global Learning Opportunity in Hong Kong.

A Word About Millennials

First, let me explain that I am a Gen Xer in a Gen Y world. I’ve sat side-by-side with and marveled at the tenacity and determination of millennials.  Often, they get an undeserved reputation from my vantage point. They are some of the most talented and determined people I have ever met.  The truth is that they are unafraid of asking. They are unafraid of doing. As a result, they acquire experience more quickly than any generation since.  As I sat in my classes, I became inspired.

I dodged suggestions to do a GLO during the first half of my program, instead substituting Global Business Strategy to satisfy the global business component of the program.  That substitution created a problem for me.

What Changed for Me

I discovered that, for me, sitting in a classroom and talking about a hypothetical strategy is much different than immersing myself in an experience and seeing first hand what business in another country looks like.  I decided that I wanted to see first hand how others lived.  I spoke to other students who seized the opportunity and remarked at how much their perspective on the world had changed as a result:  Simply from a short class abroad.

The GLO trip in the University of Iowa MBA Program is just that.  It is a weeklong international travel class. Online information about the experience suggests that “You’ll gain a deeper understanding of how companies adapt to local business conditions and experience international business firsthand through economic, political, and cultural immersion.”

Data compiled from the State Department seems to suggest that the percentage of Americans who have a valid passport, according to the most recent statistics as tabulated by the State Department, is still well under 50%.

There is no substitute for first hand experience.  Over half of us can’t even go to Canada, let alone China.  We are perfectly comfortable listening to foreign policy decisions being made by our elected representatives on the news, but over half of us can’t even travel overseas.

Even if you aren’t associated with a higher education program, it isn’t too late to plan a trip overseas.  There are a number of group expeditions available from private companies that would provide a wonderful travel experience.


Back in the City

Iowa City

I was back at my alma mater in Iowa City yesterday. 20 years ago I was completing my studies at the University of Iowa. It seems like just yesterday that I stepped foot on campus as an unprepared undergraduate. When you spend a considerable amount of time in a place and don’t go back very often, memories of how the place was back then seem stickier. It is easy to remember it just as it was. There is both familiarity and newness at the same time. Memories flood back of things that happened at Daum, Burge Hall, or Pappajohn. Some of those memories are good. Other memories are nearly forgotten. Whole buildings are in place now that were not there when I last took a course on campus. Old buildings have been destroyed.  Old making way for new.

Somewhere out on that horizon
Faraway from the neon sky
I know there must be somethin’ better
And I can’t stay another night

In the City
-Joe Walsh, The Warriors

We were there for the Global Learning trip to Hong Kong next month. This is also the reason for the blog reboot. I want to record this experience on which I am about to embark. More importantly, more than just taking pictures, I want to record and share what I thought about on this trip. These are the things that you can’t take pictures of. Not yet, at least.

Mind Reading

Did you know that, by using mind-reading algorithms scientists can reconstruct what you are seeing using brain-scan data? By using a functional magnetic resonance image of the brain, it turns out that it is possible to statistically represent what the brain is seeing. Think of it like a fax machine, only your brain is the fax, your eyes are the scanner and all you have to do is scan the image and allow your brain to process it. Using a brain scan a scientist can recreate that image. Of course, the image is just a representation of what is seen.

I am forced to use words on this journey. Perhaps someday someone will develop a way to interface with our brains directly. Could thoughts to text be a thing in the next 20 years? Perhaps.

The Classroom

I was surrounded by brilliance today. It was energizing. It is difficult to not be intimidated by some of the most amazing MBA students in the country. My peers in the PMBA program, working professionals, are some of the finest and most motivated employees in the city of Des Moines. Just incredible people.

The plan for the session was to cover some of the things that businesses must consider when employing a global strategy for expanding their business. I’ve already taken Global Business Strategy, but exposure to some of the ideas was refreshing and challenging at the same time. Topics like Ethnocentrism, Expatriate, Exit Strategy came flooding back to me. It is such a challenge to give each of these the attention they deserve.

The Core

What struck me about today were two core concepts. The first was the role distance plays in business. I’m sure that I have considered that at some point in my business degree pursuit. But this is such a foreign concept in financial or IT software sales and service because there is often no product to ship. Ones and Zeros fly as little datagrams across the internet, now.

The other was this concept of how there is different priority on different components of a Global Business Strategy depending on where your expansion is taking place. There is a fingerprint for each motion. What is good for one expansion may not be optimal for another. I hadn’t thought about something so obvious.




What to do now but TCB?

Green Highlight of my goals documentWhen you complete a big project there is always the long, slow, realization that it is complete.  There is a sadness that comes along with it for me.  Sometimes, the pursuit is better than the destination.  Not this time.

This time is a little different.  It is like opening a door and looking to see what is behind it.  Like that moment before you put the last piece in the puzzle.  It is exciting.  It is full of anticipation.  I want to see what it looks like.  I want to get back to business.

I haven’t revisited my goals sheet since this last spring.  Every six months or so, when I launched into an edit, I would flag the items that I completed with green highlight.  Where there were new tasks to tackle, I would include them.  It is time to do that again.  There are even things to add.  This time, though I’m going to resist the temptation to launch into another thing right away.  I’m just going to relax and enjoy the plateau and start writing.  I have enough content in my archives that I should be able to keep this going every day for a while.  It is my opportunity to stream online some of the things that I have encountered over the last few years.

That won’t be easy.

If it were easy as fishin’ you could be a musician
If you could make sounds loud or mellow
Get a second-hand guitar, chances are you’ll go far
If you get in with the right bunch of fellows

Takin’ Care of Business
-Randy Bachman, Bachman–Turner Overdrive

It is different from undergrad where I was on the hunt for a career after I graduated.  This time, the degree pursuit and the career happened in parallel.  The one enhanced the other and that was the most fulfilling part.  So that, coupled with the firm belief that you can always recreate yourself.  You can rise from the ashes.

There is this symbol called an Ouroboros.  It is an ancient  symbolic representation of coming full circle.  The Ouroboros depicts a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. The name originates from within Greek language; (oura) meaning “tail” and (boros) meaning “eating”, thus “he who eats the tail”.

At its best, that is what education is.  The rise up and learning through failure.  The coming full circle.

Back to thanksgiving planning, I guess.

MBA in My Eye

Even as I write this I have one class remaining until I complete my MBA.  The paper is complete.  The Powerpoint is complete.  All that remains is the presentation.  It has been an amazing ride.  It has been difficult, but rewarding.  Much like the end of a long road trip with your family.  The parts that were difficult were when you nearly fell asleep driving down the interstate.  The rewarding moments came when you were staring at a monument or sitting at a restaurant marveling at the people you spend a majority of your time with.  That road trip took a week.  This road trip took 3 years.

Many have asked me what I would now do with all of this free time.  I’m not sure if I have figured that out yet.  On one hand, I look at this journey as complete.  My 5 year plan to achieve an MBA was successfully executed.  Successful, and then some.  On the other hand, I  feel more incomplete than ever.  Five years ago there seemed to be less unrest in the world.

The wider your eyes are opened the more your realize.

And the sounds we make together
Is the music to the story in your eyes
It’s been shining down upon me now
I realize

“The Story In Your Eyes
-Justin Hayward, The Moody Blues

Anyway, I’m about to embark on what you might call the 5th quarter.  The 19th hole.  A sort of MBA second breakfast, I guess.  The University’s Global Learning Program, or GLO for short, allows students to enhance personal cross-cultural communications skills and develop understanding of how the differences in global economic, cultural, social, political, and legal environments affect business performance and decisions.  For me, it is an opportunity to travel with my fellow students and venture outside of my comfort zone.  I’ve never been out of the country.

Well, I shouldn’t say that.  I did go to Canada once.

The GLO is a week-long trip to Hong Kong & China.  There are company visits, class sessions, and a paper.  9 days of learning for what will be my forty-eighth credit hour in the program.

Then Thailand with a few friends.  I’m not sure how that happened.  I’m pretty sure that I said something like, “Oh yea, I’d do that.”

Then Australia.  I know how that happened.  My mother and I share the love of adventure.

An Expedition, A Trip

I mapped out my planned January trip.  There are still quite a few details to work through.  It will be nearly 25k miles in total.  It is a 3 stage trip to China, Thailand, and Australia via Singapore.  My plan is to write about the trip and post updated through the site for the duration of the trip.

The Drive

My freshman year in college I got an invite from an old girlfriend to drive to Columbia, Missouri and see Steven Wright in concert.  It was a fabulous invite.  I appreciated Steven Wright’s humor.  His interesting way of looking at the world.

In one of his jokes he explains in his monotone voice, “This woman came up to me and said that I was wearing two different color socks.  I told her that was fine– to me they are the same, because I go by thickness.”

I really wanted to see Steven Wright in person.  However, there were many problems with this.  I didn’t have a car.  For some strange reason, which I don’t really remember, I had to be back at school the next day.  Also, the girl I was going to see was an on-again off-again girlfriend from high school.

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes I see them running too

“Runnin’ on Empty”
-Jackson Brown

I convinced one of my friend’s to ask his roommate if I could borrow his car, drive the 4 hours to Columbia, then return To Iowa City and be back by the next morning.  To my surprise, his roommate agreed.  It was set.  I was to leave the next afternoon.

Here is the point at which I also mention that the automobile I borrowed was a station wagon.  The deal was that I give his roommate 50 bucks and return the car, unharmed, with gasoline.  My best recollection was that it was a 1985 Dodge Aries station wagon.   In the mind of an 18 or 19 year old, this seemed like a great idea gathering momentum.  Ok, it still seems like a great idea.  I love a good road trip!

I did not know if he had insurance.  I did not know if the car had been maintained.  I didn’t own a cell phone.  After all, it was 1992.

The trip down went according to plan.  Mapped precision and a keen schedule put me in Columbia in time for dinner and the show.  No drama with the ex girlfriend.  I simply did her bidding and then retreated at the previously agreed upon departure time.  I had escaped complications and was back in the car on my way home.

At this point, I might mention that it was about 2 a.m. when I left Columbia.

As I crossed over the Iowa border, I started having trouble staying awake.  I had a deadline, though.  So I continued.  I pressed on the gas a bit harder.

I must have continued for at least another hour.  I was very tired.  It was about 3:30 or 4 in the morning.  I was fighting the inevitable nod off.  I had already had plenty of caffeine, but at that point it really didn’t matter.

I should have taken it as a warning when I edged over into the gravel, but there was no suitable place to really stop along this one lane highway.  I kept going.  Even the next small town was still a considerable distance away.  I kept going.  I had a deadline.  I kept going.

I imagined each one of the dashed lines hitting the car.  Bump.  Bump.  Bump.  Bump.   Then a solid ‘no passing zone’ line.  The line seemed to wave at me at first.  Then she pointed at me and curled her finger for me to come closer.  I could see the whites of her eyes as she moved closer to me, her long straight teeth ready to let out a big laughing jeer.

It was at that moment that I woke up.  It was as if someone had injected me with a shot of adrenaline.  I was alert.  I could see the teeth of my former maiden were engraved with the detailed lettering of a truck manufacturer.  Truck!

In a split second, I jerked the wheel to the right, and veered into the gravel shoulder.  Then to the left back up on to the pavement.  Then to the right.  The car began to shake so violently back and forth I remember hitting my head on the window.  I had unknowingly put my foot on the breaks and put the car into a backward spin.   I gave the brakes one final slam as I watched the semi pass me… on the passengers side.  Eventually the car came to a screeching stop.

Had that just happened?  I couldn’t feel anything except for a throbbing headache.  It was dark.  The smell of burning rubber filled the car.  The engine had stalled.  I was facing backward down a 2 lane road watching as the semi stopped and the driver got out of his cab and started running toward me to see if I was ok.

I had cheated death.  The odds were slim, but at the last millisecond they turned in my favor.  I turned the key and the car started.  Good ‘ole car.  There was alignment.  There was gasoline.  I was awake.  I completed a three point turn and watched in the rear view mirror as the man stopped and ran back to his truck, all the while getting smaller and smaller.

Was I alive?  The world seemed crisp and clean.  Even in the dark, I could see the clouds linger overhead and the stars in the distance.  For a moment I wasn’t sure.  As I thought about it I nearly nodded off again.  ‘Time to listen.”, I thought.  I stopped in a parking lot in the next town kicked back the seat and slept.

I got back to Iowa City and returned the car.

“How’d she drive?”, my friends roommate asked.

“Not bad… for a station wagon.” I said.

I considered how close to death I really was.  How– in a split second– we could part from this world.  How there can only be milliseconds between life and death.  It was the next year that Chris Street was killed in an auto accident.   I had spent nearly every Tuesday and Thursday riding on the campus bus with him on our way to class.  Both of our heads leaning over, our ears pressed up to the ceiling like a couple of goofballs.  Then, he was gone.

Please don’t forget that your life is short.  Make the most of it.  You will have failure and you will have success, but your odds of success improve with good choices.  A couple of these choices involve how you eat and what you do with your fitness routine.  I would love for all of you to stay with the program.  I consider each one of you good friends and it has been our pleasure to serve as your coaches.