Category Archives: Itinerancy observations

Teaching in China – some reflections

I am just back from teaching a four-day module (called IT management and eBusiness, though I might change that title somewhat) at the BI-Fudan MBA program.

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picture2017This is just about the 15th time I teach in China, all of it in cooperation with Fudan University, which gives me some cause to reflect on how teaching in China has changed – all seen from my rather narrow perspective, of course, but still. Just as the Shanghai Bund view has changed (the pictures are from 1990 to 2010) so have the participants, contents and business environment of my courses.

The students have changed: In 2004, the age range and English proficiency of the students varied much more. About two thirds of the class had rather rudimentary English skills, I had to simplify the language, and the Chinese co-teacher spent a lot of time explaining concepts and partially translating what I did. This is not any longer – gone are the days when Chinese students would sit quietly and avoid your gaze. Now they participate more or less like students anywhere in the world. English skills still vary, but not any more than they do in any European country. The co-teacher (this time the very capable Dr. Wei Xueqi, left of me in the picture) still has one hour of Chinese teaching every day after I am done, but spends more time discussing and less time translating.

The course has changed: I used to lecture much more, focus more on basic concepts and methods. Now I use cases (five in this course, plus one for the in-class exam) and the students analyze and present, challenging each others’ conclusions. I now basically use the same teaching method (heavy on case teaching) in this course as I do in any other course at a M.Sc. or MBA level I teach.

The business environment of Shanghai and China has changed. In 2004, China’s business environment was firmly divided into FDI (foreign direct investment) and SOE (state owned enterprises) and the management culture, measures and methods were very different. Copying was rampant and you sometimes felt as if you were introducing capitalism to an audience where a sizable portion of the students were unsure whether it was a good idea. Not so any more: The students now all have experience with international business, frequently with much more experience than my Norwegian students, particularly when it comes to production and industrial planning. A larger and larger portion of the class works in service industries and in online enterprises, something which I have reflected in choice of cases and examples.

I used to go to China because it was different and therefore interesting. Now I go there because it is interesting – but not so different. At least not in the classroom.

Travel tip: Traveltab

I am just back from a very fruitful trip to Boston, visiting friends, meeting various colleagues and business acquaintances, even giving presentations.

One problem when you are abroad is how to stay connected: I am used to checking email, messages, and do various surfing on my iPhone, or to use it to get an Internet connection via 3G or 4G. If you do that with a Norwegian (or any non-US) SIM card in USA, you will experience a very nasty sticker shock – I have heard of people being charged literally hundreds of dollars per day just because they forgot to turn off “data roaming” on their cell phones.

Anyway – here is a great solution which we stumbled upon when renting a car at Hertz. I ordered the car with GPS, and we were given a little bag which turned out to contain a Samsung Note with TravelTab. The GPS was excellent, clear and crisp and very good at choosing a fast route around traffic.

But the real boon came with we investigated the device a bit further and found that it a) could make telephone calls (standard price per minute for a call from your foreign cell phone is up to $2 per minute) and, best of all, a WiFi spot. Turn it on, and we had flawless WiFi (for up to 5 devices) in the car as we were bouncing down the highway (the car was a GMC Terrain, quite a contrast from the Tesla I have gotten used to.)

The price for the TravelTab was, I think, around $10/day, definitely worth it for the WiFi alone. Highly recommended!

A Boston letdown

I have always recommended my friends to finish their trips to Boston by a) checking into Logan at least 3 hours before the plane leaves, b) trek over to terminal C (from the international terminal E), and c) feast on excellent seafood at Legal Seafood at that very terminal.

After having spent a great two weeks in Boston, we set this script in motion, only to find that Legal Seafood, unfortunately, has moved their restaurant to terminal B – inside security. We morosely trotted back to terminal E, to see whether it was possible to find something good to eat there.

Well, what is there is essentially a tourist scam: Durgin Park, a “Yankee cooking” restaurant, featuring overpriced food ($26.95 for a tiny lobster roll, a sip of chowder, and some fries. I mean, what? For those prices I could go to Oslo and eat.) After standing in line for 20 minutes and waiting at the table for 20 minutes, a friendly but extremely overworked waitress served our food, which was adequate (we avoided the seafood, had steak, chicken salad, those kinds of things.) The bill came to 83 and change for a two chicken salads and a rudimentary steak, and three draft beers. For that kind of money I would eat lobster and have wine at Legal. Add to this that the restaurant was head-achingly noisy.

The problem here is that the crappy service at terminal E leaves customers with a bad memory as they leave Boston. Next time, we will pack food or eat at a restaurant before check-in (or, even better, check in four hours early and go to Legal Harborside). The trouble with airport restaurants is that you have a captive audience. Terminal E is understaffed, overcrowded, noisy and just tiresome. The WiFi is some ad-supported junk that just doesn’t work.

One positive experience: The wine bar Vino Volo, which is relatively (and that is relatively) quiet, prices are airport high but not insane, the staff is friendly and the WiFi really works. So, get your food before you come to the airport, and send yourself off to Europe with a nice Malbec.

As for Durgin Park – well, it is a tourist trap in Boston, and it is close to extortion at Logan. Truly something whoever is in charge of the customer experience at Logan needs to do something about. How about throwing them out and offering the concession to Legal Seafood?

Turning the 77 bus electric

I am currently back in Boston, have visited my friends at MIT and will go to a reunion at HBS tomorrow. The weather has been great and it is just fun to visit old friends again.

But hey, this is product review. I have just purchased a set of Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones (or, rather, earbuds) which are rather impressive. I already have the noise cancelling headphones and love them for air travel, but the earbuds can be used in many more circumstances.

77 busAnd yesterday I had to take the 77 bus (Arlington Heights) from Harvard Square’s underground bus stop, an area seemingly designed to put people off public transportation. The MBTA uses old diesel buses (I think they literally are the same ones I took in the early nineties as a grad student, at least they don’t seem to have upgraded the technology) and the noise level is fantastic.

So, as I was waiting for the bus, I decided to try out my newly acquired earbuds, plugged them into my iPhone, turned on Spotify and selected Steely Dan’s Babylon Sisters. The noise instantly disappeared, and Steely Dan’s perfectly engineered music sounded not unlike it would in a perfect environment.

And here is the catch: When the bus finally arrived, I looked at it driving up and for a fleeting second thought “Hey – they made them electrical now!” Then, of course, better judgement prevailed, but as a testament to the noise cancelling qualities of the earbuds, it says something.

The rest, of course, is silence…

Finding Nemo, unsurprisingly, again

(Intially posted as a comment to Dave Weinberger’s blog, but expanded/edited into a bona fide rant here. Update, Feb. 13: Dave continues the discussion in his column at CNN.com.)

New England has just had a snowstorm, predicted to be of historic proportions, but eventually ending up, as always, as nothing much, except a staggeringly incompetent number of people (400,000 or so in Massachusetts alone) losing power. As a Norwegian currently in Oslo (but with nine winters in Boston (Arlington and Brookline)): New England snowstorms, despite their ferocity, are not aberrations of nature but a failure to prepare a systemic level.

It is just snow. Not a lot (well, a lot, but for a short time, as illustrated by the photo.) It shows up fast, and leaves again equally fast. It doesn’t stay the whole winter, from November until March, as it does here in the south (get it – south!) of Norway.

The fact that New England panics every time there is a flurry is due to lack of preparedness at the infrastructure level. In most of Norway power and telephone lines are underground, it is illegal not to have snow tires on your car after December 1st or thereabouts (if you drive in the snow with regular tires and go in the ditch, you are fined quite severely) and during my own and my children’s school days we have never had a snow day or any other interruption due to the weather (and we have plenty of weather). In Norway you cannot get a driver’s license without passing a driving-on-slick-surface course. The Oslo subway (or buses – what kind of drivers to you have?) has never been closed due to snow. I have never been to the store to stock up on batteries and water. (I have been to the gas station to buy gas for the snow blower ahead of a storm, though.) Our airport does not close down for snow, though there can be delays. In New England, there are public service announcements (from Thomas Menino’s office) saying “When clearing motor vehicles, remove snow around the muffler/exhaust system before starting the car”. How stupid can you get?

I just can’t get used to the New England oh-my-God-here-it-comes-again-flip-to-channel-5 attitude. I attribute this to lack of far-sightedness in planning – rather than taking the cost of modernizing the power grid and change the telephone lines to fiber all around, incrementalism wins. (Then again, I have found myself being the only driver (in a VW Vanagon with worn tires) on the 128, and the only person coming in  to work (in a Chevy Caprice).) Instead of driving responsibly you salt the roads until they are white and dogs can’t go out due to the pain the salt inflicts on their paws. Instead of having a public works division outfitted to fix things with proper equipment you resort to an army of contractors with F-250s barging out to power-plow 2 inches of wet snow that will disappear at 9am the next day anyway, just to get paid.

imageI drove (with wife and three kids) from Florida to MA during the blizzard of 96, which closed down NY and NJ. In Georgia, we saw 200 cars in the ditch, including an 18-wheeler cab-up in a tree. It looked like an 8-year old had emptied out his toy car crate. On an Interstate in North Carolina I saw a police cruiser (who had tried to cross from one direction to the other via those little police-only paths) nosed into and completely buried a six-foot pile, the blue lights forlornly spinning through the snow. Driving around Richmond, I saw people pass me doing 75 in their Cherokees on the highway, only to see them buried in a drift two miles later. In Washington (Metro population 5.6m, number of snowplows: 1) I drove around (in a Dodge Caravan with a not very advanced AWD system) a Chevy Suburban spinning on all four wheels as the owner moronically pumped the gas pedal. (Incidentally, the only institution open was the Norwegian embassy, whose employees arrived on cross-country skis.) When we got to the NJ border, we were stopped, as the turnpike was closed. I stupidly tried to argue with the cop that I was Norwegian, had 4WD, and was a former instructor in 4WD driving in the Norwegian army, that driving in the snow was easy if you went slowly and gently. He was, needless to say, not swayed. We spent the night in a motel.

Why doesn’t New England harden the grid and communications systems, put winter tires on school buses, mandate winter tires in snowy conditions, and just get rid of this stupid idea of snow days? It is winter, it happens almost every year. It is just something to get used to, minimize the consequences of and then get on with a productive life.

On the other hand, most Americans work way too much, so perhaps it is just nature’s way of giving you a much-needed break. In the meantime, you are providing quite the entertainment at Norwegian TV, for which I suppose I should be thankful.

(Images from TriStateWeather)

Update Feb. 13: Somewhat related, here is an infographic (from Curtis Whaley via Boingboing) on how to walk on ice. Put on your tailcoats and waddle away…: