Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hindsight is Red...Foresight is Blue

What do Cirque du Soleil, Home Depot, e-Bay, Federal Express, Southwest Airlines, and CNN have in common? They all share Blue Ocean strategy as a main reason behind their success.

Blue Ocean strategy is most likely to be triggered when "competing in overcrowded industries is unlikely to sustain high performance. The real opportunity is then to create blue oceans of uncontested market space." The contrast of Blue Ocean strategy is what is recognized as the Red Ocean strategy (red as in bloody). Red oceans "represent all the industries in existence today—the known market space. In red oceans, industry boundaries are defined and accepted, and the competitive rules of the game are well understood. Here, companies try to outperform their rivals in order to grab a greater share of existing demand. As the space gets more and more crowded, prospects for profits and growth are reduced. Products turn into commodities, and increasing competition turns the water bloody."

In turn "Blue oceans denote all the industries not in existence today—the unknown market space, untainted by competition. In blue oceans, demand is created rather than fought over. There is ample opportunity for growth that is both profitable and rapid. There are two ways to create blue oceans. In a few cases, companies can give rise to completely new industries, as e-Bay did with the online auction industry. But in most cases, a blue ocean is created from within a red ocean when a company alters the boundaries of an existing industry".

A comparison between these two strategies is well described in the following diagram:

Blue Ocean strategist had little concern with hindsight, and all of them acted with the conviction of a 20/20 foresight.  If I had a single wish at all in the world of business, it would be to appreciate and apply the "zeitgeist" (spirit of the time) the way these luminaries did, and which eventually led them to the clean blue oceans where they pioneered truly uncharted territories.

All excerpts and diagram are quoted from:
W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. "Blue Ocean Strategy." Harvard Business Review October 2004

Friday, June 27, 2008

If it ain't broken...break it!

Jerash Festival is permanently canceled. The incoherent reasons reported behind discontinuing a festival that we have all grown accustomed to for over 20 years leave plenty to be desired. This cancellation highlights an arrogance in the decision making process that disregards any ramifications of such an ad hoc move. More important the scrapping of such an important cultural event calls for the need to have meaningful transparency and straightforwardness in breaking to the public news of what many might perceive as an "arbitrary" and an "irrational" decision.

The announcement of this news should be a case study in "what NOT to do" in handling the media when it comes to matters of great importance to the public. The first lesson, never underestimate the intelligence of the audience receiving the news. The second lesson, you better have a good reason in explaining the need for such a drastic move. The third lesson, the people responsible for such a decision should have their finger on the pulse of the general mood out on the street instead of seeming to give it the finger. The fourth lesson, have alternatives ready and easy to understand; claims that "Jordan Festival" is the substitute should shed light on what this Festival is and why it is assumed to be a better option than the one canceled. Finally, those responsible should have made sure that there is one spokesperson for this very serious decision. Instead, we have seen several officials talk with more versions than we can count of what this "Jordan Festival" is supposed to be. In essence, by beating around the bush, they have not only managed to confuse the public, but they have also managed to rob any goodwill that might have been attached to it.

This is as far as the decision making process is concerned. What bothers me even more is that the funding for the alleged substitute huge event is still unclear. Had it been a private sector initiative, it would not have been an issue at all. However, the event is supposedly funded by the government through the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB). This Board receives its funding from the public sector as well as through levies collected from the private sector. The overall budget of the Board does not exceed JD 7 million. The mandate of the Board is to market Jordan worldwide. Any simple calculation reveals that the programs of JTB by far exceed the budget set for it. The question then remains, where is the money coming from for at least this "Jordan Festival", and at what marketing activity's expense? Moreover, have the stakeholders funding this Board been consulted on these drastic measures, at least the private arm of them? Afterall it is their money that is partly funding all of this mess. My gut feeling (a bit more than a gut feeling) tells me they have not.

Jerash Festival was a great event that needed fine tuning through ensuring responsible and effective management. The lack of good oversight should have never been a reason for discontinuing such an important public and national outlet. The JTB (if they in fact had anything to do with the cancellation!) should have been savvier in building on a know-how that has been in the making for the past couple of decades. They had the perfect venue and material to make their job easier in marketing Jordan. Instead they or "someones" have managed to expose JTB's overall incompetence in the most public, humiliating and controversial ways.

Throwing the baby with the bathtub is what we are eventually witnessing with this whole Jerash Festival fiasco. The sad part in all of this is that the people who should be holding those responsible accountable are the very people we do not want to hear from. I personally have become sick and tired of hearing the representatives of the people pushing their personal agendas in the name of the public good.  In the final analysis we are once again reminded of how the ineptness of the legislative branch has left the arena wide open for the executive branch to play without any hope for a much needed accountability.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How do you console a devastated heart?

Out of the many traditions and cultural practices that we have, having the three-day condolence open houses period is probably one of the wisest rituals that we observe. Although the event itself might seem overwhelming, and although the preparation for it is always troublesome given the sudden nature of it, it is still nonetheless a much welcomed distraction for the loved ones of the deceased.

I visited a bereaved distant friend today whose mother (a very close friend of my mother) passed away suddenly few days ago. Her sister has just passed away less than three months ago after battling a terminal illness. She only had this sister. She has no brothers. Her father is late since long time ago. While visiting I could not help but stare at her today at the condolence house and think to myself "how do you console someone who has lost so much in less than three months"? How does one empathize with such a life transforming loss? I kept on wondering on what is going through her mind and how is she coping with such tremendous pain. Shortly after, I found myself moving closer to her and telling her that "we are all here for you". I really meant it. We as in my mother and my sisters. This is one sister we would so wholeheartedly welcome and would love to be part of easing her pain.

Life can be cruel sometimes. Or maybe that is life, and we better get used to it. Whatever the case may be, losing a loved one must be one of the hardest tests that any human being goes through. Losing two loved ones in a row must be so painful, all I can do is hope that she will take me up on my offer.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Signs you are getting old(er)

When calls for any type of recruits specify candidates born after the year you finished college
When MTV comes on and you hardly know any of the groups playing
When the combined age of several colleagues at the office starts equaling yours
When you start switching to anti-ageing facial creams
When you start looking ridiculous calling someone 3ammo (even though he had always been 3ammo)
When men start asking for your baby niece’s hand
When most of the actors you grew up watching pass away
When the cool songs you grew up listening to become "classics"
When certain clubs become off limit and certain restaurants become inappropriate “FOR PEOPLE YOUR AGE”
When some of your childhood friends end up as some hot shot in some hot post (mostly government)
When your friends start having cholesterol problems
When your married friends start getting divorced
AND....When your single friends stop considering marriage

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sounds of the First Circle

I live in a charming area of Amman called the first circle. With the onset of the spring and summer seasons, I now spend a lot of my free time at home sitting outside. I am amazed with the variety of sounds I hear concurrently.

This morning I decided to pay a special attention to the sounds I grew accustomed to hearing and yet never took notice of. As annoying as some of them might be, I strangely find them all combined adding to the charm of my neighborhood.

Some of the sounds I was able to capture are the following:

* Birds Churning
* Tree leaves moving in the breeze
* Car engines
* Music coming from cars driving by
* Music announcing the presence of propane gas cylinders sellers' trucks
* Call for prayers, which are preceded by loud noise coming from turning the mosque's speaker on. Prior to the actual call, the neighborhood is also subjected to listening to the ending of a religious program broadcast from the same station from where the recorded call is coming
* Television programming coming from my neighbors’ house
* Distant private conversations coming form my other neighbors’ house
* Cats meowing
* Conversations of passers by
* Kids playing in the street
* Phones ringing coming from neighbors' homes

My favorite though is a new comer to the neighborhood. It is a truck that has been showing up lately carrying a loudspeaker. The call is for any scrap for sale. I just love it:

“illee 3ando khorda llalbai3…thlajjat…ghassallaaat…haddeed mawasseerr….tankaat lallbai3....ayy shee khordah lallbai3....illee 3andoh khordah lallbai3…”

Mohammad Al-Assad wrote an interesting piece on this called "Soundscapes of Amman". After my little experiment this morning, the article is amazingly accurate.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Honor Thy Sister!

Hymenoplasty is the restoration of a woman’s hymen. A hymen is the thin vaginal membrane that normally breaks during the first act of intercourse. Hymenoplasty and hymen are the subjects of a newsarticle that appeared in the International Herald Tribune headlined with non other than “For Muslim women in Europe, a medical road back to virginity”.

As I was reading this article I kept on getting increasingly uncomfortable with the subject matter and the way in which it is exposed. Why label Moslem women? Why not expose the matter as a tradition inflicting conservative societies regardless of religion and nationality? Moreover, it bothered me because it touched on a topic that has occupied us under the pretext of attaching notions of honor to it. An honor I am still grappling with the true definition of it. A form of honor that has produced nothing but a monopoly to a retarded pattern of thinking. A pattern that has served at nothing but to reinforce a stifling culture that is more concerned with women’s tissues than with issues that really make a difference.

After reading the article, my immediate reaction was to resent the fact that this topic is now exposed for the whole world to read. I hated how this topic is targeting and stigmatizing Moslem women. I abhorred what is obviously yet another form of Moslem bashing. I was disgusted by the fact that our double standards in dealing with everything has now been drilled down to this minute level. The resentment that started with anger at the reporting of this story was soon redirected towards the reasons why we even have this dirty laundry exposed in the first place.

Why is the hymen so important? And how does a hymen break? Doesn’t it always take two to Tango? If one Tangoer has a hymen and can be punished for breaking it, then how about the other Tangoer, the breaker? How come he gets to have the choice to “dishonor” his partner and then in the same breath turn against her and call foul.

A closer look at the "breaker" would also suggest that he probably has sisters who are losing their virginity to the same type of hypocrite who might also have sisters who are as well being treated by yet another coward with the same disdain, hypocrisy and denial. And the circle of deceit keeps on getting bigger and more incestuous.

The whole hymen issue is only reinforcing the web of lies that we find our young people entangled in. Whether we like it or not, young people are humans who have feelings and who would and could act on these feelings in ways that are romantic and sometimes physically intimate. Denying this fact of life will only perpetuate an implicit endorsement of dishonesty and deception. Virginity be it for men or for women is a matter of choice. Denying this right to choose is as futile as our attempt to believe that our honor hangs on whether a hymen is in tact or not. If it were that simple, we should then always remember that hymnoplasty is there to restore what we so dearly cling to as our cherished honor.

Monday, June 9, 2008

People I admire and why

Nasser the office boy. Exemplary work ethic.
Nelson Mandela. The light at the end of the tunnel.
The street cleaners. Thanks to them we can freely brag about how clean our city is.
Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashed Al-Maktoum.  His guts leading his country to glory.
The guy whose advertising is seen all over Jordan about his farm fencing services “LeTashyeek mazare3kom”. Persistence, persistence, persistence!
Robert Fisk. The synthesis of courage and integrity.
Prince Khalid Al-Faisal. A true gentleman.
Sellers at Friday’s Souk Jara. Entrepreneurship at its best.
My sister. Her zest for life.
Mohammad Al-Asad. For always reminding me how much I love Amman.
My mother. Her beautiful heart.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Big Brother Is Not Watching You

He is breathing down your neck!

We grew up accustomed to toning down whatever politically critical thought we had while talking in public or over the phone, landline that is. Some might even have gone to the extent of making up code names just in case. And this “some” might not have been any public figure or someone remotely suspected of being eves-dropped on. It seems that this was embedded in our subconscious as we were growing up in less than democratic cultures. We were and still are conditioned to hold back, simply because unbeknownst to us, big brother might be watching.

Exit analog Big Brother, enter digital Big Brother. Research shows that we have voluntarily aided and facilitated the intrusion into our lives and privacy by simply using our cell phones, e-mail, internet, etc. Satellite technologies have been perfected to the extent of having some digital dude sharing live the most intimate moments of our lives, sight and sound! E-mails have provided a platform of readily available material into our most private communications. Internet has us classified by tracking our patterns of navigation and behavior that we are nothing more than a mere variable into a sophisticated algorithm being run by some wacky scientist.

As is the case with technology, some might argue that it is a double-edged sword. The insights provided by this new form of digital benign big brother could be useful for marketing, medical or whatever purposes by narrowing down the behavior patterns of a targeted segment. The benefits could also be argued as highly useful in figuring out patterns of movement of big crowds that could prove vital in catastrophe scenarios or in urban planning issues. Whatever the case might be, the prospects of getting this too close for comfort are scary. A case in point is a recent research on cell phones that concludes that we are creatures of habit. The research is hailed as a breakthrough. “The cell phone researchers pointed out that their paper moved the field forward significantly because people hold on to their phones, and so the movement of individuals is more closely tracked than it can be with paper currency that is passed from person to person". (It turns out that there is a site where movement of paper money can be tracked

Finally, I wonder how the above media combined with the highly secret technology being developed and researched in full force in the USA could result in. The technology I am referring to is nano-technology. The little that I know of it is enough to give me the creeps.

Intelligence in the sense of prying is moving forward in ways that we are totally unaware of. If this all results in us creating a monster bigger than what we can eventually control remains to be seen. In the meantime, we should not be blamed if we end up acting like a bunch of paranoid freaks!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Why would anyone spend $200 billion on a project connecting the Gulf Arab region with Muslim Africa. A 28.5-kilometre bridge is the project's centerpiece and it will carry vehicles, trains, natural gas and water. Other components of the project are two cities in Djibouti and Yemen. The bridge aims to provide a safe route between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa region, as the waterway between them is highly dangerous due to Somali pirates. "I am sure there are much cheaper ways of controlling these pirates!!!" More important, I don't understand why this is the best use of $200 billion in two of the poorest of the world’s low-income countries where more than 45 percent and 42 percent of the Yemeni and Djiboutian populations respectively live in poverty. why?

Why would anyone want to be on one of the zillion diffferent lists that come out every five minutes? Lately we have seen the power 100, Arabian Business Women, the world's most influential people, The world's billionaires, the world's richest Arabs, the world's this and the world's that. I really do not get it why would anyone be interested in such idiotic lists...why?

Why would any Arab care who wins the American presidential elections? I really do not understand why we always keep on fooling ourselves by protrarying one candidate as Arab friendly while the other is Israel friendly. Isn't it time we learn that there is only Israel friendly when it comes to the Amercian Presdient. Didn't we learn our lesson with G.W. Bush? The truth of the matter is both candidates are always two faces for the same coin. Did we forget Harry Truman's words in 1948 during an election year when he claimed that "the Arabs need us more than we need them.” Implicit was the underlying message that Jews were more important to Truman’s election than Arabs. As Truman himself once said: “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism. I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.” Why would things be any different now...why?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Nostalgic songs

Madonna's Isola Bonita was playing on the radio this evening while I was driving back home from work. Suddenly I had so many memories rushing in reminding me of my high school and college years. So I decided to recall back all the songs that I could remember and that were part of a very special time of my life.

I'll be watching you (Police): High school in Massachussets. Parties full of kegs and wild kids going absolutely mad.

I just called to say I love you: Italy days. Window shopping during the fall in Via Nazionale in Rome. Wishing that someone would call me to tell me so.

I can’t fight this feeling (REO Speedwagon): The first concert I went to during my freshman year in college. I remember crying because I was home sick.

I want my MTV (Dire Straits): College years. Gingris student union and our hang outs there.

Cheri Cheri Lady (Modern Talking): Undergraduate years in Connecticut. For some reason this group reminds me of a ski trip that I did with a bunch of friends. One of which I had a serious crush on.

Girl From Ipanema (Ella Fitzgerald): Super fun summers in Perugia.

Embrace me (Tania Maria): More fun summers in Perugia.

Ahmad Jamal: The greatest Jazz painest of all time. Umbria Jazz, how I fell in love with Jazz.

Material Girl : The beginning of my fascination with Madonna. I still can remember how mesmerized I was with this video clip.

Relax (Frankie goes to Hollywood): Well all I remember is that I had no clue what this song was all about. Naive does not even begin to describe it :-)

I wear my sunglasses at night: The drives my friend Ahmad and I used to take in the countryside of Connecticut on our way to our horseback riding classes. Ahmad was fascinated with the notion of wearing sunglasses at night. He actually used to do it. Amazing how I always think of him and those famous rides everytime I hear this song.

You came (Kim Wilde): Washington DC, Arlington Virginia, and the beginning of a dangerous liaison.

Papa don’t preach: No comment. No not me. Irene and some wild Kuwaiti dude :-)

True Faith (New Order): Irene without the Kuwaiti dude

Happy man (Chicago): The best dedication I ever got. No dedication will ever be the same.

I can see clearly now: The day I was informed that I got a job of a lifetime. I remember driving in Washignton DC with the volume blasting while listening to this song. Mind you part of the reason for the overwhelming joy then was the fact that I was broke.