The small things and death

November 23, 2011 · Filed Under reflections, style · Comment 

…Amazon sells books from the greatest thinkers in recorded history for free or nearly free on the kindle store. Aristotle, Plato, Nietzshe, Lao Tzu, Seneca, Jacob Boehme, Julius Ceasar, Tabula Smaragdina and the Corpus Hermeticum from Hermes Trismegistus, even the Bible, the Koran, Bhagavad Gita, the Upanisads,  and many others sell in the range of $0-$5. This is unbelievable!

I’d immediately downloaded some as soon as I bought the device (which I bought also because of the free roaming features by the way). I normally read a couple of things in the same time but nowadays I am mostly reading the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius (it was also free).

The key is death. Forgetting this is what makes life an illusion.

Lie down, close your eyes and try to die. Feel the body giving up and drifting away, gather the strength to focus, not to pass out, to stay alert so you can preserve yourself.

Maintain control in the face of the most elemental fear with an irrevocable determination to fight till the very end and not to succumb to nature. With the death of the body the significance of time becomes minimal – you’re still perceiving it but you know it’ll be gone, too. You realize that your life was nothing and that you got it all wrong.

You were dead and now you have the chance to live.

You remember only the small things now. The smallest things you missed; you realize how and where you screwed up. You realize: it was all about control. The control you need now to gather the power to survive this trauma. The rest was just a setting: parents, lovers, enemies, religion, kids, career, home; sogar dein Auto!

If only you had been aware of this!

You realize that this is your last chance to control your destiny. Not to forget! Not to let the experience overwhelm you, not to let it put you to sleep.

You understand: if you identify with what you experience, you are lost. To preserve yourself you must dominate your experience! You! Your mind screams: this is not me!!! Whatever you see and feel: this is not me!

You have always been alone!

And you remember the small details: the conflicts, the love, the hate, the anger, the pride, the shame, the guilt, the lies; …and the fear! That sneaky fear that remained under your radar but you always felt and that you let yourself get used to; all the instances when you forgot, fell asleep and let yourself be used by thoughts and emotions that you never owned.

You were owned!

You have been weak and stupid. You just didn’t know!!! The question of control never even came up. Your whole life was a void and now you see that it amounted to nothing. Only now that it’s gone it has become clear: this moment is the point. This moment has always been the point from the very beginning. What will you do? What can you do?

Are you going to fall asleep now or triumph?

Nobody really understands the greatest minds without this vantage point. Without experiencing this ultimate struggle, everything is just an abstraction, an illusion.

Marcus Aurelius starts his thoughts by taking stock of what he learned from whom. Taking stock of the “small things” where control and balance must be exercised:

Taking the time; thinking before speaking; not to speak unnecessarily; being considerate; not to get angry because of small things; not to be judgmental; not to daydream; not to be passionate; not to succumb to fame and fortune; how to receive compliments and criticism on an even keel; acting in accordance with one’s own nature; not to identify with others, not to be concerned with what others think, understanding and appreciating differences and many other things that require you to use all your powers to preserve yourself, just like on your death bed when it becomes clear what the stakes are.

The greatest lives and the greatest works all exude an intimate aura of death.

This vantage point is what turns mundane activities into rituals and this is what makes the differentiated man. NOT the 80/20 rule, not the ability to introduce balanced scorecards, not the brand message (God forbid: personal band), not executive education programs, celebrity coaches or books by Steve Jobs or Jack Welsh, not a dedication to perfection in product development, not the value investing “philosophy”, not anything in the business domain: these are just settings.

I have really no idea how to finish this one. Now I am going to write business proposals, have some business meetings, the usual stuff. Hopefully I’ll manage to bring an element of life into the whole thing.

L.I.F.E. KPI’s (Newborn Screening) for Startup Leaders

November 14, 2011 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

By Eric Bilginoglu

Last week, writing about “Why Corporate Startup’s fail too early in Emerging Markets”,

I promised to come back with L.I.F.E. KPI’s with tested and proven correlation to personal and professional success of your Startup Leader in an Emerging Market.

So, you have your Startup leader in place and (s)he has passed the first 15 DAYS test by displaying determination and good signs of adaptability to the new country and the task, or at least, anything indicating the opposite was not diagnosed…now what?

Now, you are ready to further stretch him/her by giving the list of the KPI’s you will measure at the end of the 3rd month.

3 months may sound too ambitious or too soon to some. Let me explain why it is not:

Just like the life of a human, the lives of businesses also show the biggest number and speed of changes/development in the early days.

Drawing the analogy, I will call this First Quarter set of KPI’s, “New Born Screening” of the business.

For those who are not familiar with this term or those who have not yet gone through this nervous but rewarding experience of having a baby, let me give you the quote from Wikipedia:

“Newborn screening is the process by which infants are screened shortly after birth for a list of disorders that are treatable, but difficult or impossible to detect clinically. Whole blood samples are collected from the infant’s heel on specially designed filter paper and then tested for a panel of disorders. The disorders tested can vary from region to region, based on funding and the prevalence of a condition in the population.”

You see the analogy, right?

We are looking for “disorders that are treatable or fatal”.

NBS is done as early as in the first week of the life of a newborn and it diagnoses (if any) the metabolic, hormonal or genetic disorders that would affect all the rest of the life.

Similarly, the “test” you will carry out at the end of the 3rd Month of your Startup (Leader) will tell you what kind of problems might be waiting for the  business.

Of course there are certain challenges in terms of measurability (interpretation) and standardization (country to country) of KPI’s I will list below, for now I will keep it simple and tell you some of the KPI’s which I throughout the years, found reliable enough to see if the Startup Expatriate you have parachuted to an emerging market, is good enough to live, work and succeed in a different culture.

Expectedly, my 4 KPI’s are related to 4 pillars of my Toolkit, this Blog is dedicated to; namely:

L anguage       I nteraction         F un           E mpathy

For those not familiar with my L.I.F.E. acronym:

LANGUAGE  (weight 25%)

KPI: The number of learned idioms/proverbs in the local language.

Give him 2 minutes to list the idioms/proverbs in the local language and the meanings thereof in English.

Anything above 7 is OUTSTANDING (4 points)

Anything above 5 is VERY GOOD  (3 points)

Anything above 3 is ACCEPTABLE (2 points)

Anything below 3 is POOR (1 point)


KPI: The number of local TV/Radio shows whose concept and presenters can be listed

3 is an O (4 pt.’s)

2 is a V (3 pt.’s)

1 is an A (2 pt.’s)

0 is a P (1 pt.’s)

INTERACTION (weight 25%)

KPI: The number of Locals (except colleagues, business partners, service providers (housemaid, gardener, etc…) whose names and relations (s)he can name in 45 seconds.

Anything more than 7 is an O (4 pt.’s)

Anything between 5 and 7 is V (3 pt.’s)

Anything between 3 and 5 2 is A (2 pt.’s)

Anything less than 3 is P (1 pt)


KPI: The number of local traditional dish, listed

3 is an O (4 pt.’s)

2 is a V (3 pt.’s)

1 is an A (2 pt.’s)

0 is a P (1 pt.’s)

FUN (weight 25%)

KPI:  The number of leisure time activities carried out in the last three months with the family (if applicable) with locals.

Anything more than 7 is an O (4 pt.’s)

Anything between 5 and 7 is V (3 pt.’s)

Anything between 3 and 5 2 is A (2 pt.’s)

Anything less than 3 is P (1 pt)


KPI: The number of Local NAMES, famous (known) to be leaders of the field (s)he is interested in, listed. This may be anything from Music to Football or Cooking to Aikido.

3 is an O (4 pt.’s)

2 is a V (3 pt.’s)

1 is an A (2 pt.’s)

0 is a P (1 pt.’s)

EMPATHY (weight 25%)

One note here: Most of the clinical methods involve about 60 questions asked to be answered by the person to measure the Empathy level, while I find this pretty biased as most of these questions are easy to be manipulated (sometimes simply by the sub mind) to reach the “desired” result, so I will more focus on a “narrative” method. This way, you will not only have measured the level of digestion of the empathy as a concept, but will also see the level of efforts to learn and interact with the Locals.

KPI: The number of local habits, attitudes or believes (political, cultural, religious) which is culturally NEW, but the reasons to which are understood and explained.

3 is an O (4 pt.’s)

2 is a V (3 pt.’s)

1 is an A (2 pt.’s)

0 is a P (1 pt.’s)


KPI: The number of historical events in the last 100 years, which one may think, changed the life styles or political landscape of the country and people, listed.

3 is an O (4 pt.’s)

2 is a V (3 pt.’s)

1 is an A (2 pt.’s)

0 is a P (1 pt.’s)

As you may have noticed, almost any of these KPI’s could be written under any other pillar of L.I.F.E.. There is nothing surprising about this. As I wrote in my introduction, all these pillars interact with and define one another.

Two important remarks here:

1)      It is important to declare what you will measure soon, so that (s)he has the time to STUDY.

Yes, you hear me right…I want the manager to take his/her time to study and (YES!) manipulate his/her results. Let him/her go and talk to people or use google to come up with local idioms/proverbs or go and read some local history/culture books to come up with examples of areas the cultural differences/peculiarities exist or organize leisure activities to get to know more local people.

Don’t reveal the pointing system you will use, though, so that it will still depend on his/her will and efforts how many words, activities, people or empathy points he/she will come with!

2)      Just as for the TECHNICAL Business KPI’s, these SOFT KPI’s should also serve not only measuring things at a given point of time, but more importantly developing performance of people and organizations through a gap analysis, so the overall result of these 4 KPI’s should also be shared with the Management along with a proposed action plan.

If the overall score is anything but 4, this means there is room to perfection, so the Manager should be told to focus on the relatively weaker areas to improve the performance.

If the score is less than 2, this is an alarm bell, so the following three months should be used for observation of the business results. If you see resignations in the team or complaints from team members and/or Business partners, you should be considering a change there before it’s too late and typically this is the first 6 months of the startup.

The more you wait “to see”, the bigger is the threat of a failure, so ACT in a robust and quick way!

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Why Corporate Startup’s fail too early in Emerging Markets

November 9, 2011 · Filed Under identity based praxis, reflections, style · Comment 

By Eric Bilginoglu

I’ve seen a dozen of Emerging Market entries by Big Multinationals in the last 10 years, which had to go through turnarounds or drastic management changes as early as in the first two years.

A pattern repeating so often cannot be a coincidence, can it?

When one analyzes the way these start-up’s were “realized”, a list of typical common points is easy to catch:

Mindset: Most of the time, Headquarters or Regional Head Offices see these “new offices” as “nice to have” ventures.

Leadership: With a mindset defined above, it’s not expected to see real movers sent to take the start-up jobs. Companies rather send to these “bumpy” roads, people who are bored or jammed in the corporate promotion ladder.

Team: A leader sent to “take care of” the businesses would simply end up being a “care taker”…doing trivial searches and bringing in people who have mainstream management skills, instead of looking for movers with “make things happen” approach.

Unbearable lightness of having excuses: Excuses are life vests of Emerging Market Start-up (mediocre) teams. It’s typical to hear the team –starting from the leader- constantly murmur about “how difficult it is to operate in this corrupt country”, “what a big challenge it is to overtake the legal/bureaucratic/cultural hurdles put on the track”, “what a bunch of lazy peasants they have to deal with”, “what a vampire the distributor/ dealer/supplier is”, “how difficult it is to educate the receptionist/secretary/plumber…”, etc…

Certainly, some or most of these excuses might have a ground; but hey, the job of the leader and the team is to “make things happen”, right? Wait…yeah, the mindset…

One of my ex bosses who had earned himself a rightful nickname of “pitbull”, used to say: “Once you start listening to excuses, start preparing a really good list of excuses why you failed or simply sit and write a resignation letter…”

I can hear some of you, shaking their heads, say: “What about support from Head Office?!”


If you are not a self energizer, able to do the right things yourself with your team (YOU have gathered) (yes, you DO need the best team!), without any mentors or instructors thousands of miles away, simply do NOT take the job!

Start-up’s are all about speed and efficiency.

You’re only as speedy as the speed of your hiring and firing in a start-up.

The most crucial phase of a start-up is the first couple of months, not more!

Being late for a date is bad. Being late making decisions during a start-up is fatal!

So, what are the key elements of success for a start-up?

1)      Send the best, not the bored!

Make sure you send your best people to Start. If You think that venture in that exotic country is just a try or an adventure, simply do not enter that market and focus on your plate…If, you really want to create a sustainable and profitable business there, find and send the best! Make it clear and agree before giving the job offer, that you will accept NO excuses whatsoever for failures and the DECISIVE assessment will be as early as in the first three months. Whoever will sign under that is either CONFIDENT or DESPERATE and these both are great qualities for a Start-up Leader.

2)      If you are not sure that you have the best person there on the job (you should have been, but anyway!) Schedule a 15 minutes (NO MORE) call with the leader you sent there at the end of the first month. Do not ask questions, just listen:

It’s BAD if he/she starts the MONOLOGUE with complaints about meals, traffic, polluted air or unhappy spouse…  It’s WORSE if he/she mentions challenges only without talking about opportunities or ways of making things happen…

Well, if he/she gossips about skills and competencies of his/her team, just hang up and call the HR!

3)      Once the 15 minute test is passed, give him/her a list of very clear KPI’s to be fulfilled till the end of the third month.

Do I sound cruel? Let me tell you what is cruel…

It’s cruel to waste millions of dollars of the corporate money to TRY something you are not sure you want!

It’s cruel to exit a market a year or two after your entry ruining your corporate and brand image!

It’s cruel to lay off people for simple management/leadership defects!

It’s cruel to send (and destroy the life and career of) someone, who is not able to use a water gun, to the front!

You want to know more and get a list of “out of the box”, S.M.A.R.T.  and proven KPI’s? Then be back here on 14.11.2011 to read my next article…

Keep up the good work till then!

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