Shark-infested waters

Upon finishing Tony Hseih’s book that had ‘feel good’ written all over it (perhaps even a bit too much sometimes), I started reading Luyendijk’s immersion into the world of London City bankers; ’Swimming with Sharks’. Boy, the contrast with Tony’s book could not have been starker. But like with Luyendijk’s former books on journalism in the Middle East, this book was an absolute page turner. And like he did for the making of his former books, Luyendijk submerses himself into the world of his subjects and manages to paint a picture that is human, balanced, and – perhaps what gives the account a lasting impression – very non-judgemental.

He describes his initial struggle to find bankers willing to share their version of City life, shows that ‘the banker’ does not exist and that – unsurprisingly – how the world of finance entails a vast collection and wide variety of jobs. The people occupying these professions come in as wide a variety of character traits as any other profession, and though the classic stereotype ‘Master of the Universe’ loudmouth alpha does indeed exist, Luyendijk also identifies ’teeth grinders’, ‘blinkers’, and a bunch of other types of character traits that constitute this world. In short, Luyendijk shows that the people in this profession are as human as any one of us.

This leads the reader to a conclusion that is much darker and more worrisome than the picture of ‘a handful of rotten apples that ruin it for all’ would have painted though. Luyendijk points out how the whole incentive structure in banking is set up to favour short-term gains over sustainable growth and prosperity, how incentives push one to ‘eat or be eaten’, and urge every entity – the banks, the employees, the politicians, etc. – to care for nothing else but the self. In many ways the world of (investment) banking is a world of ‘grab all you can grab, because tomorrow the party might be over’. Continue reading “Shark-infested waters”

In pursuit of happiness

When recommended to me a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of Tony Hseih. However, while I had hardly heard of Zappos, I had on many more accounts heard of and read about some company who offered new employees the choice to quit with a $2k bonus anytime during their 4 week introduction period. I had heard of some online retail store with an incredible customer service that did much more than was asked for. Tony turns out to be the man behind this all, and he tells his personal story in a real, open, down to earth and humorous way.

ding dong

His story starts how he as a young boy wants to become rich by growing a worm farm, and takes you through his youth, college, founding LinkExchange and selling it off, and his almost religious experience at a rave. Eventually a turn of events leads him to take all of his experiences, acquired wealth, and efforts to bet it all on growing a small online shoe store in the way he thought it should be done. That is, growing it such that not only revenues or profitability would grow as fast as possible, but grow the shoe store such that everyone connected to the business in one way or another – employees, vendors, customers, investors, partners, local communities – could grow and prosper – prosper in the broadest sense of the word – with this company known as Zappos.

In 2016 this mindset has not become the standard of business just yet, but in 1999 this was a truly revolutionary way of thinking. In fact, I think many of the companies that are very pleasant to deal with these days (from my own experience I can think of Groupon (NL) with their tongue-in-cheek product descriptions and Coolblue.com (NL) with their amazingly fast deliveries, the game it offers you to play as soon as you have placed your order (to kill the time until your package arrives…), or just the very human way KLM customer service talks with you for instance) have borrowed their ‘fun’ in doing business strategy from this pioneering company.

While the second part of the book is dedicated to explaining what exactly the core values of Zappos are and mean, and stresses how they should not become a ‘meaningless plaque on the wall of the corporate lobby’, Tony’s own personal story is what truly appeals to me. He signs off with an attempt to quantify happiness, with thoughts along the line of understanding the principle components, you will become better at pursuing. Most convincing there I found the three types of happiness found in time-happiness space, where pleasure, passion, and higher purpose together form a positive slope.

oh brother, where arth thou

Allow me to explain: first, with the lowest amount of gained happiness for the shortest amount of time comes pleasure: the thing we are all after when seeking thrills doing sports, going out, going travelling, etc. This can be seen as seeking the next high. Then, what leading to more happiness that lasts longer is something felt when totally engaged and in a ‘flow’ doing something, like anything from matters at work or during hobbies can give you. Finally, the largest chunk of happiness to be gained, which could be enough to last a lifetime, is the happiness – or satisfaction perhaps – felt when serving a purpose that extends beyond yourself: this, as I see it, is your raison d’être: it can be anything from having kids and building a happy family to building that company you believe in, pursuing scientific discoveries, helping people in your job, or doing charity work.

Personally, I read this at a moment when my raison d’être had ceased to be: my contribution to humanity’s scientific endeavours – though humble of course, yet personally fulfilling in a lasting way – had come to a pause as I had defended my dissertation months earlier. Upon reading this particular view on happiness, I caught myself at being unnerved by the sudden (apparent) disappearance of a life goal: I caught myself at pursuing the other, less sustainable types of happiness instead: mostly the thrill-seeking kind. The graph made me realise what we all already know one way or another: that while being in search of the next rush in sports, the next party, big dinner with family or friends is for most a necessary addition to a happy life, one should see this as it is: an addition. For if this is the only happiness one seeks, thorough unhappiness is never far away.

All this, and much more eloquent descriptions concerning this topic can be found on deliveringhappiness.com, go see for yourself.

As the sun sets over South Holland

A Great New Adventure Out West starts. More on that later, but for now a small visual tribute to two places very dear to me: a place that taught me how to be a scientist, and a place that stole my heart.

rotown from Fenix

The view from a place I loved to watch the sun go down, perhaps a place known for its touch of champagne socialism, but boy what a fantastic spot. And what about this one, though perhaps not Oxford’s ‘Bridge of Sighs‘ this was taken from, the view is a more majestic one if you ask me:

Euromastjestic

There I so many things that I could, maybe should, or probably wish I had written about the city of Rotterdam, the city which I had come to call my home during the final stretch of my PhD (and, what turned out to be my final time in The Netherlands, that is). I wanted to have written how I truly love the fact that in many ways this place was the proud antipode to Amsterdam, an unpolished diamond, a harbor city and a place with rough edges, yet culturally rich and beautiful at its core not unlike the beloved city of my teenage years, Antwerp; how this place cuts strait through a lot of the BS so adorned in the capital, a place of doing instead of talking about doing; how it is the only city in the country that has a true metropolitan feel; how, unlike other Dutch cities, this place did not give me the sense of being a mere spectator in my own country, and so on and so forth. In short, how by a historic and gruesome twist of fate this city had become the non-conformist rebel of the Low Countries, and how this place finally made me feel truly at home in my country of birth for the first time in my life. But as with so many things floating around in one’s head, only minute fractions end up in writing. Perhaps for the better, as I was probably too busy enjoying life. Anyway, enough rambling, let’s let the pics do some of the talking: Continue reading “As the sun sets over South Holland”