Friday, April 24, 2015

Supporting The Arts (Cuba, Part 3)

In Cuba, we encountered artists at every turn.  Some of them were brilliant and a number of us in our group bought paintings and prints directly from those artists.  However, as in any market, there were a number of less-talented folks hustling to make a buck.  On one foray through a public square in Havana, several of us were accosted by this young man armed with a sketchbook and a sharpie who was dashing off caricatures and then hawking them.

I’m a sucker for these pitches, especially when the kid with the pen says he’s a student trying to earn his way through school.  Hey, he even had a badge in a lanyard that seemed to suggest he had some official reason for pestering us!  So, after some negotiation, I bought the caricature of me for $5 even though it looks a lot like the caricature that John Lee showed me HE had bought from the same guy!  The more I looked at mine, though, I started to think it actually resembled Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) in Reservoir Dogs:

I think I’ll just tell people it’s a drawing from the movie!  Gotta admire that guy’s hustle (if not his drawing skills.)

What Am I Reading?

I’d had a copy of Simon Senek’s Start With Why on my stack of business books for at least a year and in all likelihood it would have continued to be buried by new arrivals.  Fortunately, several recommendations (from Marty Wolff and Kelly Gray) pushed this to the head of the list.  It’s a quick read with some fundamental thinking on the importance of thinking about “Why” we do what we do both as companies and individuals.  The book resonated with us and is helping to frame our upcoming National Sales Meeting.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Peak Design Frozen In Time (Cuba, Part 2)

Before we traveled to Cuba, everyone asked the same question: “Can you bring me some cigars?” (Answer: I’ll try.) Upon returning, everyone is asking “Do people really drive those classic cars?” (Answer: Yes.)


I’m actually giving short shrift to a complex set of issues with my second answer. The truth (as shown in these photos I took while wandering the streets of Havana) is that classic cars are everywhere and are the primary vehicles on the road. Any family that owned a vehicle prior to the Revolution that culminated in the overthrow of Batista in January 1959 appears to have done anything they can to maintain those vehicles. The U.S. embargo made obtaining new vehicles nearly impossible, but having a car is important not only for transportation but also status (just as it is throughout the world.)


And, while I lamented the lack of Cuban innovation in my last post, necessity has made engineering geniuses out of the Cubans who’ve managed to keep 60-year-old vehicles running by scavenging spare parts from other makes and motors (even lawnmowers!)

Broadly speaking, one of the appeals of modern Cuba to an outsider is the sense that you can witness peak design in action. Have there ever been more beautiful cars than those created by the U.S. design studios in the 1950’s? Forget functionality, mileage and safety: These rockets were beautiful. They reflected our space obsessions and inspired generations of designers to aspire to create things of beauty. Is it any wonder that visionary designers at Tesla, Google and even Apple are all turning to cars to fuel their ambitions?


It’s also worth noting the fantastic architecture (see a few representative photos). It’s hard to imagine that these designs were in any way practical but they are striking. Wouldn’t it be cool if the next iteration of Cuban design leaped right from the ‘50’s to the 2020’s and skipped all the cookie-cutter boredom of the intervening years?


Finally, for anyone who wants to read an expanded journalistic version of my last post, I would highly recommend the April 6th issue of Time magazine, which devoted its cover story to Cuba and did a wonderful job of covering the impending arrival of hordes of American tourists.

That article contained an hopeful quote from a senior government official who explained that the new Cuba will be based on elements of Capitalism but still be Cuban and insightfully offered:

Building2“We have to find ways to make the life of our people better. The world is not the way you want it to be. The world is the world, and you have to find a way to be in harmony with it.”

Can we have some serious U.S. politicians embrace the same philosophy?