The art of equilibrium – Salvatore Ferragamo

Florence is a city of museums and beautiful historical buildings. There is so much to see and so much to savor, but I had just the one place on my agenda  — the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a museum that celebrates the life and art of shoe maestro Salvatore Ferragamo.

There are many reasons why I have been fascinated with Ferragamo — both the man and the brand he created. One of the first people in the world to understand brand association with celebrities and stars, Ferragamo was a true pioneer, though you can’t tell that from the current devolution of the brand into a somewhat mass-market-Burberry-esque company. This is perhaps even more surprising because the business is still run by the Ferragamo family.

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Now just sit down and listen….

Listening is a masochist endeavor. To do it right you have to put everything down. Not just your phone, even pen and paper. There is nothing to hold on to when you truly listen. You have to use your full attention, registering everything that you see and hear. You have to slow down your self-perception and focus on the outside, on what you do not understand. Compared to how we usually operate, this is like focusing on pain. Like diving into boredom. In order to see the other in slow motion, you need to stop the camera of self-perception that makes you the star, and speed up the camera that records the outside.

Listening requires the patience to recognize your feelings in other people’s words, no matter how trivial, dark and empty their language may seem. It requires you to become someone else while you listen. Listening requires that you accept the nuisance of not understanding and still pay attention. Listening is the first step of deep thought.

Oliver Reichenstein/ Information Architects.

Living By The Bay

I went for a long walk this weekend and carried my Sony RX-1 camera. I took a lot of photos — most of them were terrible. Some of them turned out to be good. Here are my three favorites:

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Kindle Unlimited, Uninterested

So far, I have hesitated to try any of the new services — Oyster and Scribd — that offer you unlimited access to books for a flat monthly fee. Why? Rohit put it best on Twitter, “Feels a bit like gym membership – feels good to have it, not sure if it is fully utilized. Besides, buy+read seems to work.”

These services’ book selection is long of total numbers of books, but is short on the books I really wanted to read. Much like Netflix in the early days, you have a lot of indie-content and old catalog content with some new stuff. Sure they have deals with folks like Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster, I stuck to the true-and-tried buy+read formula. However, when I first heard that Amazon was ready to announce its Kindle Unlimited service — I was interested.

Given the breadth and depth of Kindle library — at $10-a-month, it seemed like a bargain. Especially, considering I normally end up buying three-to-four ebooks a month. So, when the service became available, I quickly signed up and very quickly realized that Kindle Unlimited was less than interesting.

Sure there is Harry Porter and some other well known books, but frankly going back and reading those books is not how l like to spend my time. Books are my time machine: taking me to places I have not travelled — both physical and metaphorical. That is why I read books — mostly to learn and imagine. 

And just as quickly, I signed up for Kindle Unlimited, I unsubscribed. $120-a-year is just too much money to experiment with the service. It is even less interesting from book selection perspective than its rivals, if you ask me. “I think this is a bit of a stumble for Amazon, a money grab,” is how one blogger puts it. I see it as a lost opportunity for Amazon and a reason for them to go back to the drawing board. 

What I am reading today

Bill Campbell on Tim Cook

“Tim is a calm, thoughtful guy “He studies things and thinks about them, makes a decision, and moves on.” – Bill Campbell, outgoing member of Apple’s board of directors on Apple CEO Tim Cook. Campbell was a close friend of Steve Jobs and is well known in Silicon Valley as “Coach.”

It is time to stop rewarding failure

Silicon Valley (the notion) has become very much like rest of corporate America — it has embraced the philosophy of failing upwards. I have seen many executives get bumped up the ranks, get fancier titles and bigger paychecks, even though they were disastrous at their job. Many have left destruction and dismay in their wake. And yet, there they are getting bumped up — again and again. I was reminded of this disease this morning when I read about Microsoft cutting 18,000 jobs of which 12,500 odd will be at the Nokia division. Microsoft’s board might have eased out Steve Ballmer, but man, why aren’t they thinking about Stephen Elop.

When I met him in his prior gig at Microsoft, Elop seemed to be a nice enough guy, not quite a visionary, but good enough for what was then essentially a monopoly.  The very fact that a middling executive could be brought on for a turnaround of Nokia, and compete with the iPhone/Android onslaught with absolutely zero turnaround experience was one of those decisions that has confounded me and I continue to blame the Nokia board for shooting itself in the head. On his watch, Nokia essentially eviscerated. Android might have been a better decision, but he went with Windows Mobile. The stock tanked, market share shrank and like proverbial Lord Mountbatten he was part of the last days of the Nokia Raj.

And Nokia, the once haloed and peerless brand when it came to phones was sold to Microsoft for relative pittance. Elop heads up Microsoft’s Devices Group. Think of it this way — since Elop took over as Nokia CEO, the company has  cut over 50,000 jobs (if you include today’s announcement.) That is just mind boggling. That bumbling strategy which was the hallmark of Elop’s Nokia tenure still continues — in other words, Microsoft doesn’t really have a Nokia strategy. From Elop’s memo today: “In the near term, we plan to drive Windows Phone volume by targeting the more affordable smartphone segments, which are the fastest growing segments of the market, with Lumia.” That is precisely what Nokia guys used to say — we have the low end and we can grow our share. How did that work out?

Even on that end, Microsoft is going to be embroiled involved in an expensive marketing ground war with Google’s Android One efforts in places like India. Does Microsoft want to go into battle with Google and  Amazon with Elop? I wouldn’t. But then I don’t run Microsoft either. That said, I don’t think Nokia rank-and-file should be the only ones who  get the pink slip.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to pick on Elop — though he is the latest  and most visible in a string of high-profile executives who defy gravity despite being duds. Silicon Valley needs to look at baseball or football and see how professional sports teams treat their executives and star players. If you fail — you are shown the door. Just like the players. Bobby Valentine was unceremoniously dropped by Boston Red Sox. San Diego Padres fired their general manager. The message is — big dollars means big results. What’s wrong with that — especially in this age of mega-paychecks for executives?

Update: Charles Fitzgerald who worked at Microsoft and doesn’t suffer fools has a brilliant ex-insider take on Elop:

His resume is that of a short-tenured opportunist who has left little mark on his employers except of course Nokia where he presided over the company’s collapse and ultimate exit from the mobile handset business.

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