Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hola Barcelona!

Two weeks ago, Darden students finally got their much-deserved break from classes and recruitment--two full weeks of Spring break! Growing up in a wet/dry season country, I never experienced this wondrous holiday. So to make the most of it, I decided to sign up for Darden's Global Business Experience (GBE) in Barcelona, Spain. This was equivalent to one full class in school and it was in one of the most beautiful cities in the world with no cases and no spreadsheets involved. So yes, it was a no-brainer for me. It was going to be Spain for me for over a week!

Before I bore you with a daily journal of my experience focused on Barcelona's great art and architecture and adding my own takes on its business context, let me share with you some anecdotal highlights of my experience.

Almendras, por favor?
On my first night in Barcelona, we were sitting in a Spanish bar and restaurant watching the football game between FC Barcelona and Getafe. Of course, the place was packed with Barça fans making it very difficult to get a waiter's attention. I had wanted a bowl of peanuts to go with our jar of Sangria. When I finally got his attention, I proceeded asking, "Hablas Ingles?" (Do you understand English?). He curtly said, "No." I've been warned about this great language barrier but still braved going to Spain with just a printout of commonly-used Spanish phrases a friend was kind enough to give me. Perhaps "peanuts" in Spanish might sound like its English version. So I tried asking while seemingly trying to conjure a bowl between my two hands, "Peanuts, por favor?" He looked at me blankly and shrugged his shoulders. Hmm... The internet should be useful in a time like this. So I said, "esperar (wait)," pulled out my iPhone and searched for "peanuts in Spanish." I showed the screen to the waiter in the hopes that he could decipher what I was asking for. For some reason, this did not prove to be effective since he again shook his head and shrugged. Ah, don't they always say that a picture is worth a thousand words? So I searched for peanut images. Lo and behold, a beautiful photo of peanuts in a bowl which I excitedly showed him. As if a eureka moment had just occurred to him, he said, "Ah, almendras! Sí, sí!" and rushes off to the kitchen. Ah, the irony! All this trouble and frustration and the answer was in my last name. Of course I knew that my last name meant almonds in Spanish. But I had wanted peanuts and not almonds. Still, it could have saved me the trouble to use it as reference. I guess the obvious is never the first choice. Well, suffice it to say that it was one of the best roasted almonds I've had. Perhaps it went well with the delicious Sangria (sweetened red wine) or because I never exerted that much effort in getting myself a simple bowl of nuts.

Dinners at 10pm, Sangria galore, and Barcelona's nightlife
My mind and stomach have been trained to eat dinner at 7pm. This was tested and challenged during my trip to Barcelona when I realized that dinner was served two to three hours later. Who eats dinner at 10pm?! Apparently, the Spanish do. How can one even fully digest the meal before going to bed? Well, the Spanish can because nightly parties start at 11pm or 12mn and ends until the sun rises. Not only did I have to adjust my body clock for the 6-hour time difference but I also had to settle into a new routine. We would start our day at 8am with breakfast at the hotel. Spanish and continental cuisine were the day's order so it was bacon, eggs, and churros for breakfast. Classes (held in IESE business school) started at 9am and ended at around 12nn. Our afternoons were spent touring and appreciating the city's art and architecture. We were back at the hotel at around 6:30pm, took a 2-3 hour siesta (nap) and met at the hotel lobby for dinner plans at around 9pm. Dinners were usually a good mix of tapas and lots of Sangria and lasted until around 11pm. And then the nightlife began!

Barcelona bars and clubs are unlike those I've seen from home and here in the US. For one, the Spanish really know how to make drinks! Order a rum and coke and the bartender would fill a little more than 1/2 of a big glass with rum and filled the rest with coke (no diet coke, mind you). So yes, it was more than potent. Since the clubs only start to really swing at 1am, we would get our cocktail fixes by bar-hopping then proceeded to club-hopping. Some of Barcelona's best clubs were facing the beach so it was dancing by the beach for us. Barcelonians also take dancing very seriously. All the clubs we went to had a minimum of three dance floors (one had one dance floor per level) with varying music from hip hop, house, to pop--whatever sways your liking. You can even see the age group differences in the dance floors! And for those who wanted a break from the dancing, you can comfortably sit in the plush couches and be entertained by the attractive ladies dancing in the podiums. If the dance floor craze is too much for you, a few steps brings you to a gorgeous view of Barcelona's beach and city lights, the soft sounds of the sea and the slightly cool evening breeze. Let's just say it was a helluva party!

Team Barça
During our free day, I visited Camp Nou, the football stadium in Barcelona and home to FC Barcelona. I'm not a football fan myself but after watching a live game in Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium (Madrid vs. Lyon), curiosity got the better of me and so I went on a Camp Nou tour. And my, was it an experience! In the huge museum, you could see all the FC Barcelona moments that made history and re-live them using the six multimedia areas, 8-meter interactive table, and 35-meter audio-visual projection. Most multimedia areas used touch screen technology which really felt like being in one of those Mission Impossible movies. You can run through the player's tunnel; see the pitch from a view only the most expensive tickets can offer you; pretend you are the great Lionel Messi photographed in the press room; and you even get a peek of the players' changing rooms, jacuzzi tub and all.

Before that day, I never realized just how big football was in Spain and the rest of Europe. Even more surprising for me was how one sport can bond a whole nation. Like they say about Barça--it's more than a club.

Now, on to the serious stuff. I've logged a daily journal of my take on our classes, field trips, and the beautiful sights of Barcelona. Not only because it was a course requirement (which it was), but also because I would want to remember these rare moments.

Day 1 – March 20, 2011
Casa Batllo
After a lot of introductions to revered artist Antonio Gaudi and his famous works, finally Casa Batllo—one of Gaudi’s most celebrated work of art. Standing across the street in Passeig de Gracia, taking in the view of this strange-looking but quite exquisite house, I knew I was looking at a master’s work. It was a house none like I’ve ever seen before. The stark contrast between Casa Batllo and the traditional Spanish buildings beside it was overwhelming. Casa Batllo was almost fantasy-like. While the nearby buildings fashioned straight lines, rectangular windows, and triangular roofs, Casa Batllo was all but conventional. It seemed like Gaudi was avoiding straight lines, traditional house hues, and ordinary concrete. The façade was made of sandstone, covered with colorful mosaic. The windows were irregular oval in shape with strange-looking balconies seemingly shaped in skulls and bones. In place of bricks, the roof replicates that of reptile skin or more specifically that of a dragon’s, with a cross or a sword near the side. Our guide shares this to be Gaudi’s reverence towards St. George, patron saint of Catalonia. St. George was said to have slain a dragon with his sword. The interior was no less fascinating, with clearer attention to detail: ergonomically-designed stair railing; diminishing window sizes from bottom to top floors to reflect the higher quantity of light necessary for lower floors; light shades of blue ceramic tiles at the bottom floors and darker hues at the top where the light was the harshest; wave-like ceilings to mimic the sea; and other almost minor details that would let the audience truly experience the sea the way nature intended it. It was amazing how much detail Gaudi put into this house, how much time he spent creating the perfect experience, and how much inspiration he must have had to create such a modern-looking piece of work during the 19th century.

Our professor said that perfect engineering and design comes when possibilities, constraints, and uncertainties meet. Where did Gaudi start when he designed his masterpiece Casa Batllo? Surely not with constraints, given the possibly astronomical costs of restoring the building. With greater detail and flair come greater resources necessary. But this sure did not stop Gaudi. This tells me that (1) the Batllo’s (who commissioned Gaudi to remodel the house) gave him almost unlimited resources; and (2) Gaudi was unwilling to settle for less and compromise his vision. So perhaps Gaudi started with possibilities. Like modern-day geniuses and artists in the business world (i.e., Steve Jobs), he started by challenging assumptions and defying the status quo. Who said that windows had to be rectangular or roofs triangular? Like most successful innovations, it always starts with “What if?”

Mies Van Der Rohe (Barcelona Pavilion)
After a quick visit at the Olympic stadium (for when the 1992 Olympics was held in Barcelona), we stopped in front of what appeared to be a big old church. Of course, that’s not rare in Barcelona but I wondered what was special about this one. At the side of the Church was this modern-looking building of glass and marble. I was pretty certain it was a reception area. Perhaps of the church? To my surprise, our guide stopped in front of this modern structure and said that this was one of the most influential structure in the 20th century. I knew I didn’t have an artistic eye, but seriously? And then it dawned on me. It was 1929. In an era where gothic design was in fashion, Mies Van Der Rohe created a design ahead of his time—a structure made of glass, marble, and steel—no different from the many skyscrapers we see in big cities today. In its strangeness and uniqueness, the pavilion was heavily criticized and was later destroyed. It was only decades later that the people realized the great value of the pavilion and hence began its reconstruction.

Van Der Rohe was another Gaudi by heart—bold and daring. He challenged the status quo to bring about unconventional innovation to what is now the foundation of modern architecture. But I wonder, at what cost? Ridicule and criticism? What motivated him to deviate from the norm and explore new possibilities? Why was he willing to pay the high price of perhaps tarnishing his name as an artist by creating an artistic abomination? How was he to know that the prize would be bigger than the price he had to pay? The bigger question for me was, “Would I have done the same? Would I ever make a business decision so unconventional that I would risk my colleague’s trust and my own reputation?” Perhaps not. Where do I find the courage to do so?

Day 2 – March 21, 2011
Colonia Guell
Today we devoted our visits to Gaudi. First stop was the Church of Colonia Guell, an unfinished work by Gaudi. Eusebi de Guell commissioned Gaudi and intended to build a church with a crypt underneath. However, when Eusebi de Guell died, his son decided to cease the construction of the church hence only the crypt was completed. The crypt, almost like a small chapel, is perhaps the most beautiful chapel I have ever seen. Made of brick and stone and adorned with mosaics, the crypt is shaped so oddly (irregular oval), one would think it was a natural creation. The interior is even more mysterious and enchanting—slanted columns, high arches, and beautiful stained-glass windows. The wooden pews with seats ergonomically designed to fit the buttocks was meant for two people to sit slightly facing against each other to avoid distractions from the Eucharistic mass. At first, you’d think the structure with its odd shape is unstable but history tells us that Gaudi used a very advanced technique of modeling the church by hanging little sand bags from chains allowing gravity to pull the bags downwards and giving weight distribution to form the model structure. This showed him the necessary shapes and angles of his pillars. He then placed a mirror under the model to see how the structure would look like. This model was the most primitive technique of modeling designs that only computers could do today. It is said that this puts Gaudi 75 years ahead of his time.

The Colonia Guell is yet another proof of Gaudi’s genius. With a burning passion to execute his eccentric design, he created a means to his end—his very own primitive modeling technique using sand bags. With no technology to help him execute, this should have set Gaudi’s constraints and limitations but this did not stop him explore the possibilities and come up with unprecedented design/architectural innovation that would later lead him to create his biggest masterpiece—the Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia (Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família)
When I was working for a consumer goods company, I worked with a project nicknamed “Sagrada Familia.” The innovation in the making had been going on for almost 10 years with no completion date set. And boy, did this project give me countless headaches and frustrations. I kept wondering why we were still pursuing something so uncertain. In my naïve thinking, I would have already abandoned it if it had been my call. The Sagrada Familia, however puts that 10-year project to shame. Starting construction in 1882, the Sagrada Familia is still in the works today, 129 years later. This is nonetheless, Gaudi’s biggest masterpiece and Barcelona’s most celebrated landmark. It is said that the expected year of completion is in 2026, 100 years after Gaudi’s death.
The Sagrada Familia, with its massive size (occupying one whole block of the Eixample district), stylish towers, ceramic pinnacles, and overall grandeur is breathtaking. Gaudi had envisioned the church to have a total of 18 towers with three grand facades to represent the Nativity, Passion, and Glory of the Christ. Sadly, Gaudi only finished the Nativity façade, dedicating 40 years of his life to the design and construction of the Sagrada Familia. The interior of the church was a big surprise for me. Entering from the Nativity façade, with Gothic and Baroque designs, very much like many cathedrals, I did not expect the interior to fashion a more Art Nouveau design. Except for a crucifix at the center of the Church, no statues of saints adorned its interior. Gaudi’s love for nature was evident—tree trunks of varying kinds stood as a forest of columns across the halls while humungous flowers decked the high ceilings. The varied wall to ceiling stained glass designs invited colorful light to shine the basilica.

Gaudi’s masterpiece is to me both majestic and lamentable. The Sagrada Familia’s remarkable design is concrete proof of his genius but I daresay so is it telling of his failure. To create something so ambitious and almost conclusively unachievable in his lifetime must have been a source of frustration to Gaudi. But an interesting point was raised in class. Did Gaudi know that he will not live to see his masterpiece completed? Probably yes. So why did he create something he knew he could not finish? It could be because of passion for the arts or his strong devotion to Catholicism. Or it could very well be his refusal to settle for anything less than his ambitions despite the limitation of mortality. Would I have settled? Would I have worked within my constraints and uncertainties and in the process curtail the possibilities?

Day 3 – March 22, 2011
Picasso Museum
Today we started class with a short clip on Pablo Picasso’s life in preparation for our Picasso museum tour in the afternoon. A child prodigy indeed, Picasso accomplished outstanding paintings as early as age 10. His mastery of traditional art came so early in his life that he must have been bored enough to explore unconventional painting as evidenced by his blue and pink era paintings and finally to the more controversial, Cubism painting. Cubism was Picasso’s early version of 3D, where he depicted objects from a multitude of viewpoints to add different contexts and perspectives of the subject. To the traditional art viewer’s eye, I would expect this to be nothing short of eccentric. But to Picasso, this was advancement from traditional art. And to the world today, this was what revolutionized European painting and sculpture. It was a strange experience to walk through Picasso’s works chronologically. You could see his earliest paintings from when he was a child, drawing pigeons on small wood pieces, then beautiful portraits and sceneries on canvass, to the lovely hues of blue in his later life. The shift to Cubism in Picasso’s paintings was so startling that one would think these were from a different artist. At first glance, I could not find the beauty in these strange, almost grotesque depictions of the human form. But a closer look will bring out the curiosity from the audience. It seemed to me that each painting was broken down into smaller objects, each with a different story to tell and different perspectives to show. They were then re-assembled in an abstract form, not conventionally beautiful but alarming and alluring nonetheless.

Picasso’s early mastery of traditional art led him to explore beyond the conventional. It seems like this is the winning formula for successful innovations—challenging the norm. Just like Van der Rohe, Picasso dared think outside the box and revolutionized art. Now, if only it were that easy to change the status quo.
Brilliant as he is, I find Picasso more human than perhaps Gaudi. Like most people, Picasso drew inspiration from people and objects around him. You could almost picture the story of his life from the evolution of his paintings. You could see his obsession with one woman from the different paintings he drew of her. And as his women changed, so did his paintings. Some of his paintings were so passionately done, one could almost feel the emotion behind it. This to me, humanized Picasso for who among us have not used an object or a person to draw inspiration from?

Day 4 – March 23, 2011
Miro Museum
Today was a free day for us. The instruction was to choose a different place in Barcelona where design plays a role. I chose to visit another artist’s museum. After racking my brains hard to understand Picasso’s intense and unconventional work on cubism, I was personally hungry for traditional art. Was I in for a surprise!
Joan Miro was a Spanish Catalan painter and sculptor. His work leans more towards surrealism and he was said to express contempt for conventional painting. Touring the Miro museum and seeing dozens of his work, I must say I was not impressed. In fact, I found most works so strange and (for lack of a better word) ugly that I wasn’t sure I was still looking at art, or perhaps “beautiful” art. One specific painting caught my eye. Walking towards it, I could see a crowd inspecting it quite intently. School children were looking at it with blank stares; young adolescents were stifling laughter; while the more mature crowd and those who seemed like art enthusiasts were looking at it in awe. The painting (named Landscape) was that of a big white canvass and a small blue dot on the center right. Like the school children, I stared at it blankly. Perhaps it was too abstract for my taste. But seriously, I can do this myself.
So what was so special about Miro that put his name up as an acclaimed artist? Miro’s refusasl to confine his works within the boundaries of traditional art was definitely one of the reasons for his fame. Miro was also revered for the exceptional diversity in his works. His freedom of interpretation and continuing search for fresh sources of inspiration—blank canvasses, straight lines, dots, empty spaces, empty horizons, etc. also made his works unique. He regarded objects with life and seemed to find some depth in the most mundane of things. He was quoted in saying, “For me an object is something living. This cigarette or this box of matches contains a secret life much more intense than that of certain human beings.” I personally would not go so far as think of inanimate objects as living and thinking but hey, to each his own.
Miro was also unique in his vocal dislike for art critics saying, “they are more concerned with being philosophers than anything else. They form a preconceived opinion, then they look at the work of art. Painting merely serves as a cloak in which to wrap their emaciated philosophical systems.”

I wonder though—how much of his work did Miro intend to be interpreted the way art critics and fans have—with layers and layers of meaning? Are people reading too much into his paintings, wanting it to be deep when the artist’s intention was only shallow? Who’s to say that in Miro’s painting of “Still Life with Old Shoe,” he intended the shadow cast by the gin bottle as a weeping silhouette? Or that the sole shoe in the painting, with its bright colors was for a one-legged harlequin as some art enthusiasts have interpreted? I find these interpretations as perhaps overly-dramatic and really reading in between the strokes more than sanely necessary. For all we know, these artists could have meant their works of art to be appreciated at face value or for their aesthetic appeal. Maybe the human instinct to complicate things got the better of most of us and just like with life, we interpreted innocent paintings as something more than meets the eye.
One thing I greatly admire about Miro is his defiance against art critics. Unlike Picasso who seemed eager to please his critics and garner the much-coveted awards, Miro was no pleaser to anyone but himself. It seems to me that his own audience was himself. He said, “Throughout the time in which I am working on a canvass I can feel how I am beginning to love it, with that love which is born of slow comprehension.” One can sense that Miro’s first audience is himself, that he must first love his own work no matter how long it took. Who among us can actually say that? Who can say that he or she is working for his or her own personal fulfillment and actualization and not to please others? I for one have worked more for my boss, colleagues, and the many other stakeholders I was taught to satisfy.

Day 5 – March 24, 2011
Dali Museum and Dali’s House
Today is a full-day field trip for us going to Figueres and to Cadaques on the Costa Brava, a two and a half hour drive from Barcelona. Our main focus is Salvador Dali, a prominent Spanish Catalan surrealist painter. The drive in itself was beautiful, offering spectacular views of wide green fields, galloping horses, and snow-capped mountains. Our first stop: the Dali Museum. I thought I had seen “eccentric” from Gaudi, Picasso, and Miro’s works but had I known about Salvador Dali, I would have labeled the other artists as conventional. I cannot properly articulate my first reactions upon seeing Dali’s designs. It was perhaps closer to disbelief than awe. Some of his works included a living room design mimicking a woman’s head—two paintings for the eyes, a wall ornament as nose, a lip-shaped couch, and a floor-to-ceiling cascade of blond hair. Writing this down is even odder than seeing it in person! His other, less gallant works included unique paintings with tiered substance offering different interpretations depending on how closely you are viewing the painting. That for me was unique and peculiar, even enjoyable. Dali also had this strange obsession for painting the things that he feared the most. It was said that he had a phobia for ants and sex hence his repeated paintings of these in many different forms. Dali’s imagination was as surreal as it can get and is perhaps too overwhelming for my taste. What I do like about it is its ability to rouse curiosity from the audience, whether to ask “What in the world is this?” or “What is the meaning for using a melted clock as symbol?” We learned later on that the melted clock was in fact Dali’s interpretation of time and its relativism. One thing for sure, one is bound to spend more than one curious minute looking at any of Dali’s artistic works.
Our second stop was Dali’s house in Cadaques, facing the Costa Brava coast where the beach view was absolutely breathtaking. Taking in the beautiful surroundings, my first question was “How can someone born and raised in such serene atmosphere grow up to be very eccentric?” I had expected Dali’s house to be as odd as his works of art but I was surprised to see a more normal abode, perhaps discounting the huge stuffed bear standing by the entrance and the big stone egg adorning his terrace. It was a unique experience walk through a great artist’s home and actually see his bedroom and workstation. Almost all rooms had great views to the seascape so it remains a mystery to me why none of his works that I saw seem to have been inspired by the simplicity and calmness of the sea.

Yet another eccentric artist is added to the roster, perhaps the most eccentric that one classmate actually labeled Dali as the Lady Gaga of the art world. Hilarious but true actually. Dali seemed to give no regard for his critics and was comfortable deviating from the norms of the art world. He seemed in fact to enjoy and bask in his eccentricity. Does this show Dali’s true commitment to his art? Did he remain true to himself by not letting others influence his art? Was he not a pleaser unlike the many others who catered to critics’ standards in place of their own? Who today can say this for themselves? To not live and make decisions based on other’s expectations?

Day 6 – March 25, 2011
Restaurant Coure
Today is the final day of class. We take a more modern shift in our understanding of Strategy as Design in Barcelona. What better place to start than in the kitchen? Apparently, gone are the days of traditional cooking when most dishes were served warm and well-cooked. Today, we see a new art of food preparation and cooking called molecular gastronomy. This is a new discipline that uses the physical and chemical processes that occur while cooking to come up with unique dishes. For instance, an egg that is cooked at a perfect temperature of 62 degrees C for exactly 35 minutes will yield the highest protein from the egg (or so I understood). Our five-course meal consisted of:
1. Onion soup with egg and cheese omelet
2. Tuna with beet mousse
3. White fish with hazelnut
4. Duck leg and pumpkin
5. Strawberry sorbet and biscocho with roasted nuts and cream
We spoke to the restaurant owner Alberto who very fondly shared with us his strong passion for molecular gastronomy and his commitment to furthering this art at almost any cost. So much so, that his business would run one million euros in revenues per year but would suffer a loss. His big investments in molecular gastronomy equipment and strong insistence to take two days a week off work to focus on brainstorming for new ideas were perhaps some reasons for his losses. He viewed molecular gastronomy as an art and himself as an artist who needed some time to re-energize and brainstorm new ideas. More surprisingly, he did not at all seem bothered by the fact that his business was incurring losses. He re-iterated that his passion had some costs that he was willing to take. Quite literally, he could be one starving artist in the flesh.

I can’t say I enjoyed the five-course meal. I definitely loved the soup and the dessert but everything in between seemed too raw and exotic for my taste. The fact that the meal did not tickle my senses does not discount my admiration for restaurant owner Alberto. Very rarely have I met people (especially in the business world) who would sacrifice financial growth and stability in the conquest of art or any other passion. Is not the very purpose of business money? And isn’t business a means rather than an end in itself? Apparently, not to all people. Perhaps my business-trained senses cannot comprehend such squandering. But to people like Alberto this was not squandering at all. More likely, it was investing in what would be the future of food. Hence one can consider the costs to be an asset rather than as expense.

Final Takeaways and Reflection
Reading the course syllabus for this Global Business Experience course Strategy as Design, I struggled to make the direct connection of art and architecture to business. How does design fit into strategy, and even more puzzling, how does it fit into business strategy? I’ve always regarded art and architecture purely of aesthetic value, something to please the senses. After learning and experiencing the works of Gaudi, Picasso, Dali, and Miro, indeed there is something deeper in the layers of paint than meets the artistic eye.

Dissatisfaction breeds Innovation
How did Apple become one of the most iconic and aspirational brands today? How did Steve Jobs land to be one of the most influential people of the century? It all started with innovation. People like Jobs were not afraid to work with ideas without constraints and uncertainties. Stripped off constraints and uncertainties, one is left with endless possibilities. Who said that a computer should be a three-piece hardware? Couldn’t it be a one-piece small flat screen? The iPad proved it certainly could be. Of course, Jobs is not alone in breeding innovation from dissatisfaction. The 19th and 20th century artists in Barcelona shared the same passion and commitment to innovating without constraints. Gaudi was relentless in his ambition to build Colonia Guell even without the computer technology to aid him. And so he made his own technology with the use of sandbags and gravity, making him 75 years ahead of his time. I bet even Jobs couldn’t have thought of this.

Your Audience is Key
It is very easy to identify one’s audience in art. More often, your audience is the critics who will make or break your career. In the business setting though, who is your audience? Is it your boss who makes your final evaluation? Is it your colleagues whom you work with every day? Is it the company’s shareholders for whom you are trying to create value for? Picasso shows us his wisdom in choosing his audience wisely. Driven to become the world’s greatest painter/artist of the century, Picasso knew whom to please and get approval from—his critics. And so, unlike Miro and Dali who painted and created works of art more for themselves and their passion, Picasso for me aimed to progress according to his audience’s expectations and even exceeded that. Where 2D painting was in fashion, Picasso exceeded expectations by introducing Cubism or the (badly put) 3D in 19th century painting. Did that give him the edge over rival artists? I definitely think so. Indeed, he was named the greatest artist of his time.

Fail Cheap
Staring at the Sagrada Familia, I cannot help but think that this beautiful masterpiece is both a testament to Gaudi’s genius and failure. A minor basilica, much smaller in size than some of Rome’s greatest ones, construction is still on-going after 129 years. If Gaudi were still alive, would he still have considered this unfinished monument an achievement? Perhaps yes. After all, he most probably knew he wouldn’t live to see the church finished. He just wasn’t willing to settle for anything less than his 18-tower ambition. Say for argument’s sake Gaudi did fail by completing only one façade of the Sagrada Familia, at what cost? Did he fail cheap? Business trainings and self-help books teach us that’s it’s perfectly alright to fail but if you do, fail cheap. How do we measure “cheap” in failure? Do we take an acceptable threshold level, some sort of percentage to total costs? And when do we make exceptions such as those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities or masterpieces, another Sagrada Familia, where any cost of failure is acceptable? I’m guessing these exceptions are very rare in the world of business where among one’s audience are shareholders whose mantra could very well be, “Show me the money.”

Are you Happy?
In our final class day, someone wondered loudly, “Do you think these artists were happy?” This question is not directly related to design as strategy but one I want to delve deeper anyway. Why? Because of its relevance and because this almost rhetorical question transcends centuries, artists, and businessmen around the globe. So, were they happy? Granted, they were probably a little crazy or extreme but I would like to think that yes they were happy. If I were paid and revered to do what I’m most passionate about, I will definitely have a smile on my face. But where do we see this level of satisfaction and fulfillment in the business world? More often than not, I see highly-paid bankers sticking to the job for a few short years for the money or sought-after managers hopping from one industry to the next in search of greener bucks. What does it take to actually spend 60 years of your life devoted to one industry (art) and one function (painting)? With no retirement, mind you. Will I ever find myself in that level of comfort and contentment; to not want more than what my life’s passion needs me to give? For now, I am far from this. I’m still struggling with what my real passions are and embarrassing as it may be, I’m searching for the greener pastures as well. But it is indeed comforting and inspiring to know that pursuing one’s passion, achieving financial stability, and being happy are not mutually exclusive.