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.




Things I’m Thankful for Today

I am thankful that life matters—that we have the freedom, in this country, to acknowledge our own lives in any way we choose.

I am thankful that real freedom comes from elevating others, and–as my 8 year old son said just last week– putting yourself in another’s shoes.

I am thankful that we don’t have to agree with one another to defend one another’s right to believe in what could be.

for the right to stand up, or sit down, or kneel

for the warriors who sacrifice on soil and on the sideline

that it is the responsibility of all to create a place where we are compelled to stand for one another.

to sometimes sit and yield our own needs to the disenfranchised

to kneel and ask ourselves, “What can I do to change the world?”

that building up is better than tearing down.

I am thankful for the continued freedom to invent, and reinvent. Myself.

for the brisk morning air, the sun that comes up each morning like a promise

the spring rain that brings life

for the faith that, with all the bad that comes in the world, the hope that good will prevail

for children laughing, and playing

for dancing

for joy

that I weep uncontrollably for those we have lost to death

but can, with joy, pass the good that I have learned to my children

that I feel sadness from not being heard

and joy at hearing others

that I am compelled when I hear the cries of others

and joy at their satisfaction

that I am afraid of what is to come

but I embrace my fear with anticipation

because it is better

with You

Customer Service Lesson

Cleanup in Aisle 3I have had a job since I was in 6th grade, but when I turned 15 I got my first hourly position with the grocery store up the street. It was a right of passage. I got the job by being persistent. When I accompanied my grandmother on her weekly grocery run I simply asked the store manager if I could work there. I stood at the customer service counter and asked who I needed to talk to about a job.

Soon, the manager would pop out of the back room, and after a couple of questions, the inevitable response.  “Naw, kid, you are only 15. You have to be 16 to work here part time.” I finally got the job by wearing him down, I think. It was after a couple of months, and several eye rolls,  that I remember him saying, “You must really want to work here. You will have to sign some forms and you can’t work past 8:00 p.m. until you are sixteen.  Fill out this application. You start the day after school is out for the summer.”

I’d like you to know at four in the morning
Things are coming mine
All I’ve seen, all I’ve done
And those I hope to find

Blue Collar
C.F. Turner, Bachman–Turner Overdrive

Until this time I delivered papers twice a week for the local newspaper. I used to love the six to twelve bucks a week I would get for delivering the weekly paper and the shopper. It was enough that I could usually buy something at the gas station or at the local Ben Franklin. Now, I was going to move up to the big leagues. Minimum wage. In four hours, I could make as much as it took me a whole week to make at my previous job.

That was my first life lesson regarding pay and an early economics lesson. It was a fixed pay rate at the newspaper. You were paid on the number of papers you delivered.  The only way to make more money was to deliver more papers. I quickly learned that one could only deliver so many papers on foot, and you could only handle so many newspapers on a bike. My wage had been capped, so I knew it was time to try something else. The grocery store seemed as good a choice as any. There was no shortage of work to be done.  If you worked harder than your peers, there was some degree of stability.  Once you left the store, you were ‘off’.  Well, aside from the occasional mandatory break room meeting,

I learned many work and life lessons in the break room of the grocery store, but one lesson about customer service stuck with me.  If someone asks you for the location of a product, it is your job to take them to it. That means: Stop what you are doing, let the customer know that you can help them find the item, and take them to it. It was your job to take up the search on behalf of the customer. The search ended when the customer was satisfied that you had done everything you possibly could to assist them– If that meant searching for it yourself, all the better.

Some of my coworkers at the store failed at this task. They would tell the customer that the item was in aisle 3, then glance back down at what they were doing. The customer would continue their search, only occasionally locating what they were searching for.  The odds of making that sale were slim.  Our boss understood that if that customer can’t find it, they can’t buy it.

He also understood that, for the part-timers, customer service was just as important as knowing the products in the store.  It was our job to know where things were. Fortunately, I had a good memory. If I didn’t know where something was, I was going to spend time stocking shelves until I did. I loved the gratitude people showed when you quickly found something that they had spent ten minutes looking for.

My boss considered the customer first because he knew that caring for the customer would help his business.  He would say. “We aren’t in the grocery business. We are in the people business. People just happen to eat.”  He cared enough for his employees to convey that message and did everything he could to help his team emulate it.

I revisit this lesson often. There are successes and failures. Every situation is different. If I could sit with him now, I would share the relevance of that philosophy today.

Sewing Day Camp

It was the summer before 4th grade that I went to a day camp in which I was forced to learn how to cross-stitch.  From what I could remember, I didn’t really want to cross-stitch.  Actually, I though that knitting or crochet would be much more practical.  Also, I couldn’t think of a single time in my life I would ever need the skill of cross-stitching.  Cross-stitch is a thankless endeavor.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have seen beautiful heirloom quality creations with cross-stitch.  I just wasn’t planning on making something colorful to hang on the wall, or some fancy pillow for one of my siblings.  My younger brother was much too smelly for that, and as luck would have it contracted head lice at the beginning of that school year, anyway.  I am pretty sure that my mom burned all of his bedding and shaved off most of his hair as a result.

But there we were, my campmates and I forced to take up needle and thread and all follow the same pattern each day for the 5 days of our day camp.  There were groans each afternoon.  Needle pokes.  Unintended knots.  Bleeding.  Muttering.

All that pressure got you down
Has your head spinning all around
Feel the rhythm, check the rhyme
Come on along and have a real good time

Le Freak
Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, Chic

Each day, I carefully followed the pattern in which we were to spell out the words “Empowered to Love”.  By the end of Wednesday, I was on the ‘w’ thinking that I would never be able to finish by the end of the camp.  I had done the math.  5 letters in 3 days.  So I asked to stay a few minutes extra to finish a couple more letters.  It was the first time I remember setting goals and rationing my work as to finish before a certain time.

I remember my grandmother being there that Wednesday waiting for me and talking to the teacher.  I can’t remember what she said exactly, probably something to the effect of “He is quite a stitcher.”  My grandmother just smiled at me.

When we got in the car I asked her if I could ask her a question.   “What does ’empowered’ mean?”, I asked.  She told me that it means that you are “able to”.  That you are “filled with power” and she gave me this analogy.  The car we were riding in.  The tank of this car is filled with gas and the gasoline gives the car the power to move us from place to place.

On Thursday, a few more.  On Friday, I completed the whole word ‘Love’, much to the needling and prodding of my other campmates.  Pun intended.   They were saying stuff like “You are a girl.”  or “Sandy Seamstress” or some other needless adolescent chiding.  Little punks.

Anyway.  On Friday, I looked around and none of my other campmates had finished.  There were probably 25 of them.  I was the only one.  The teacher trimmed the edges of my creation and stuck it in a little frame and I got to take my framed creation home intact.  The other kids got to take home pieces and a pattern and the urging to finish what they started.

It was years later when we cleaned out my grandmother’s apartment after she passed away and I found this little framed cross-stitch.  I started thinking about one of the final days that we sat in that apartment together and I sewed a button back on her nightshirt.

I believe that we are all empowered to do great things.  Many never realize this.  They sit in the shadows and fail to embrace what they could become.  For some, empowerment is a little flower waiting to blossom.  For others, it is a raging fire that cannot be extinguished.

Only you can decide where you are along that road and if you are going to let old habits die.  But I will tell you this.  I see you come in and work hard every day.  There is fire in the elite.  You are the elite.

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.