Thursday, 28 February 2008

Destination Report: Saudi Arabia

The Undiscovered Treasures

of Mada’in Saleh

Petra has made it to world fame: the
“rose-red city” in Jordan was recently elected as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This acknowledgement of the ancient Nabatean settlement is highly deserved as it figures according to UNESCO as "one of the most precious cultural properties of man's cultural heritage."

Hardly recognized, however, is the fact that Petra did have a sister city, built be the Nabateans at the height of their empire two millennia ago. Known by the modern name of Mada’in Saleh (or al-Hijr in local language), the site is located some 320 km south of Petra in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Being one of the least accessible countries to foreign tourists, it comes to no surprise that Mada’in Saleh – despite its unique scenery and historic beauty – still remains largely unknown to the outside world.

The Entrance to the Site of Mada'in Saleh

Spectacular Rock Formations in the Desert

Spread out over an area of approximately 13 km² in an expansive mountainous enclosure, Mada’in Saleh is home to 131 tombs carved meticulously into the colored sandstone walls. 45 of them still carry Aramaic inscriptions above the entrance, giving reference to their builders and their purpose as tombs or places of worship.

The Tallest Tomb Carved out of a Single Rock

Inscriptions and Ornaments above the Entrance

The tombs were the only solid structures built by the Nabateans, and they did it in a fascinating way: starting from top, they scrupulously carved the facades into the mountain, some of them over 20 meters high. During that process, the rock structure was constantly assessed in order to avoid soft and flimsy quality.

The result of this can be seen today: most of the structures still stand largely intact and with a very smooth surface – even after being exposed to the harsh desert climate for over 2000 years.

Unfinished Tomb Facade on Soft Rock

The Smoothness of the Facade is Striking

Mada'in Saleh is definitely one of the few remaining "hidden jewels" on the worldwide tourism map and visiting the site is a truly awe-inspiring experience. With the slow opening of Saudi Arabia for tourism, there is a chance that more visitors will be able to cherish the beauty of this site.

Some 15 years back, Petra was only known to a handful of insiders, and now it has reached world fame. And there is no doubt that Mada'in Saleh, for its beauty and historic importance, is destined to reach a comparable level
the time will come.

Andreas Hauser

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Modern World: Great Blogs

Dubai Daily Photo

Blogging is a wonderful means to get across impressions, reactions, thoughts or feelings of places and events. Distance does not matter, and even time differences are not an issue.

Searching the internet for updated information about Dubai, my attention was caught by a very special blog: the Dubai Daily Photo. This project was carried out by photographers based in the UAE that vowed to publish one photo per day from in and around Dubai for a full year.

The task is now finished and stands as a prime example for project determination as well as an outstanding sense of beauty and detail that is captured in each of the photos. I am amazed by the quality of the shots and hugely enjoy browsing through them from time to time.

© Dubai Daily Photo

Here is the link for all those who appreciate good angles and views on life, especially in the Middle East:

Dubai Daily Photo

Take your time and keep looking, with 365 photos published there is plenty to come back for and it is definitely worth it.

Andreas Hauser

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Book Recommendation: Money

What Effect Does Money
Have On You?

Bucks, quid, euro – money makes the world go round, there is no doubt about it. But to what extent does it also affect personal well-being?

Possibly this question has never really occurred to someone who is busy trying to make a living, gain himself adequate compensation for daily work, prove his family with an outcome and create financial security. So it might take some external initiative to come to grips with the concept of money and its real impact on life.

Rolf Dobelli is providing just that bit. In his marvellous book Wer bin ich (”Who am I” – unfortunately only available in German language), he simply asks a total of 777 questions. And some of them are quite uncomfortable when it comes to giving a serious answer. In this context, the ones concerning money have struck me as particularly uncomfortable, since they actually put the mind to work. Here they are:
  • How many of your friendships did money create, how many did it break? And how many did it manage to save?
  • Can you look at a villa without wondering about its price?
  • Who spends more money on unnecessary items: you or your partner?
  • Put into descending order what you consider more valuable (assuming equal taxation):
    - one million lottery win
    - one million stock market profit
    - one million inheritance
    - one million interest earnings
    - one million savings
  • Have you ever wished not to know the financial status of your counterpart (e.g. in a conversation)? What else would you have preferred not to know about that person?
  • From which amount on does money start to become uninteresting for you?
  • Which luxury would you be able to relinquish without lowering the quality of your life? And why do you not do it?
  • What does the millionaire feel when meeting the billionaire?
  • What would prevent you from robbing a bank if you were sure never to get caught?
  • Would the world be more just if all had the same?
© Rolf Dobelli 2007

As is to be expected, there are no answers provided to any of these questions. They are simply intended to make the reader think.

And at least for me it has done just that.

Rolf Dobelli “Wer bin ich – 777 indiskrete Fragen” in Deutsch,
ISBN 3257065639

Andreas Hauser

Monday, 18 February 2008

Management Tools: Lecture


The “What’s-In-For-Me?”- Approach

Lectures usually appear to be a straightforward issue: some expert is presenting his/her know-how on a topic, gives some insights, maybe pairs it with a piece of well-meant advice and everybody is happy. That is the theory – but the practice often looks strikingly different.

Really good lecturers are hard to find. But those who excel certainly take one thing truly serious: their audience. This simple, but often overlooked pre-condition is their key to success. To illustrate this, here are two examples that
certainly are familiar:
How often has a lecturer started with: “Today, I want to show you/tell you/explain to you/introduce to you…”, and the audience thinking: “Well, nice to know what you want, but are we here for you or you for us?”.
Or another lecturer beginning with: “After my lecture, you will know more about…”, with the audience wondering: “Good news, but who tells you that I wanted to know more in the first place?”

In order to bring the message across, the lecturer must inevitably put himself into the shoes of his audience. This means, he needs to answer the one and only question that all of those present ask themselves: “What’s in for me?”

A good lecturer needs to tell the audience what he/she has in store for them, giving them a reason to listen. In order to make it structured and applicable, the WIFM (What’s-in-for-me?) approach has been divided into three parts:
1.) understanding the audience; 2.) defining the added value; and 3.) communicating the added value.

1.) Understanding the audience

Firstly, the WIFM approach requires some fundamental considerations as indispensable part of the preparation phase:
- Who exactly is my audience?
- Why are they here today?
- What is their cultural background?
- What is their technical level?
- What could be their individual motivation?

2.) Defining the added value
With a sound understanding of the audience’s expectation, the presenter needs to identify the added value that his/her lecture might provide:
- New horizons
- Business ideas
- Tools and methods
- Benchmarks
- Case studies
- Different viewpoints
- Examples of problem solving
- Tips and tricks
- Proven experience
- Development opportunities

3.) Communicating the added value
Finally, the lecturer needs to find a way to get all this across during the opening part of the session. And of course, he/she needs to follow the thread through to the end. Nothing is more disheartening than a lecture that did not fulfil the previously set expectations.

So it is necessary to set the scope from the beginning and even touch on existing limitations. In this way, each individual in the audience can then decide for him-/herself whether the potential value of the lecture is worth following actively or not. And already the fact that the audience’s concerns are taken into active consideration usually makes a positive entrée – sadly, this is by no means the norm.

It is obvious that even this approach does not guarantee a full involvement of all members of the audience nor does it ensure the final success of the lecture itself.

But no matter how many in the end are finally listening, at least the lecturer has shown commitment towards gearing his/her performance to the actual needs of the listeners – and they in turn were answered their most present concern: WIFM.

Andreas Hauser

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Management: Parkinson’s Law

How much time does work take?

In daily business, the situation of seemingly having to little time for the completion of a work load is only too familiar. No matter how exact a certain task is planned ahead or how many variables are taken into account, in the end it always turns out in the same way: the work is almost never finished early, sometimes on time and mostly late. But why is that so? And does it really have to be like that?

Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a naval historian from England, was not convinced and decided to tackle the matter. In an effort to investigate into the phenomenon of governmental bureaucracy in the British Civil Service, he described the inevitability of its occurrence with the words: “Work expands to fill the time available.” Using this as the topic of a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955, he instantly became internationally known for it.

In principle, there are two main areas of Parkinson’s Law (the name by which his findings became famous):

1.) Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

While some people take hours for a certain task, others do it in a matter of minutes. According to Parkinson, this relates directly to the amount of time each individual grants for finishing the task in question. The more time is available, the longer it takes to complete the work.

2.) The matters most debated in a deliberative body tend to be the minor ones where everybody understands the issues

In meetings, often the most trivial topics take up most of the time. This is due to the fact that the majority of participants have an understanding and an opinion about it, which they are eager to share. Consequently, this leads to a negligence of the core issues where an animated discussion does not arise due to the general lack of knowledge and competence.

These observations were actually used by Parkinson to explain the inevitability of expanding bureaucracy in a regulated work environment – even in cases where the fundamental task to be executed does not increase or even decreases. This is due to the fact that a) every servant or employee wants to raise the number of his subordinates but not of his rivals, and b) servants or employees of one organisation are mutually creating work for each other.

In his semi-humorous way, Parkinson’s derived further laws from his investigations, all of them generally applicable to organisations and management:

Expansion means complexity,
and complexity means decay.

Policies designed to increase production increase employment; policies designed to increase employment do everything but.

Democracy equals inflation.

Delay is the deadliest form of denial.

Deliberative bodies become decreasingly effective
after they pass five to eight members.

From my personal point of view, most of his observations and statements are really striking. And the more I think about Parkinson’s Laws, the more I tend to agree that still today – over half a century after their discovery – they still hold appallingly true.

And for those wanting to know more, here is a link to his first article on the subject:

Parkinson's Law

Andreas Hauser

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Book Recommendations: Entertainment

“The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear”

Walter Moers

Germany has never been particularly famed for its imagination and its fantasy, especially when it comes to literature. But this well-established prejudice has recently received a major blow: with the publishing of The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear in English, the international community is finally given access to a truly fascinating and captivating literary masterpiece.

An initial bit of advice: do not dismiss it for a children’s book – nothing could do it less justice, and it is intentionally written for all ages. The description and the illustration of half of the Bluebear’s lives (he does have 27 overall, but the latter half is none of the reader’s business) is a most absurd and brilliant accumulation of fantastic stories, weird life forms and abnormal occurrences. Or in which other way could the reader do with minipirates, babbling waves, the rescue dinosaur Mac, bollogs or sugarstorms?

A very special character in the successive stories leading the Bluebear through many parts of Zamonia and beyond is Professor Abdullah Nightingale. In his Nocturnal Academy, he teaches a kaleidoscope of disciplines, and in order not to forget it he leaves the Bluebear with a mental copy of his Encyclopedia about everything there needs to be known. Much to the delight of the reader who is continuously given background information of the most absurd kind in an utterly charming way.

Most certainly, the comments made until now cause nothing more than pure confusion amongst any potential reader – which is in a way intended. Only those familiar with the book’s content and its loveable wittiness of writing are able to understand. But this is no bad intention, The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear simply cannot be described in a few words, nor can the charming character be gotten across without actually holding the book in hands.

And if that would not be enough as a motivator, there is an additional asset worth mentioning: the edition comes with more than 100 black & white illustrations by Walter Moers, providing the individual fantasy with some more food for thought.

I can personally say that it is one of my all-time favourite books, worthwhile every minute of reading, and I will certainly continue to be a lifetime fan of the Bluebear.

Walter Moers
“The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear” in English,
ISBN 1585678449

“Die 13 ½ Leben des Käpt’n Blaubär” in Deutsch,
ISBN 344245381X

Andreas Hauser

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Destination Report: Yemen

The Bustle of Yemeni Street Life

Yemen is the poorest country of the Arabian Peninsula yet is possesses riches that cannot be found anywhere else. Apart from a unique architecture and an overwhelming cultural wealth, the liveliness of its people turn any visit into a highly intensive experience.

The trading and exchanging of goods lies at the heart of Yemeni daily life. In the old or the new town of the capital Sana'a, the noise of negotiating merchants creates the acoustic background when strolling along the streets. They intermingle with the vivacious colors exposed on the markets and along the souqs. And together, they create the typical atmosphere of Yemen that differentiates it from any other destination.

Bustling Street Life at Bab al-Yemen

Shop after Shop in the Souq

Street Sellers are Present Everywhere

Colours and Styles for All Situations

Negotiations Are Simply Part of Life

Transport Station: Donkeys

A Regular Friday Afternoon Jam

And there really is only one way to experience all this: immerging oneself fully and just stroll with the flow, giving back the everpresent smiles to the Yemenis.

Andreas Hauser