Tag Archives: Nokia alumni

Finland ICT strategy is out

globe shutterstock_74593108 300pxThe Finnish computer science and information technology (which Finns, for whatever reason, call ICT) task force  – headed by Pekka Ala-Pietilä of Nokia alumni – released its report yesterday with recommendations for the next 10 years (direct link here. Only in Finnish language to use our inherent cryptopgrahy advantage).

Finland technology sector is under major transformation. Since 2008, 40,000 jobs have been lost in the tech sector, Nokia alone losing 12,000. These are big numbers in a country of 5,4 Million people.

Yet I remain convinced of the bright future.  There are mobile companies coming to Finland tapping into the talent pool, but I think even bigger long-term potential is in other businesses. Simply, the things people in Finland have learned in the context of global mobile phone business are relevant in so many other businesses, being disrupted by digital, mobile and global markets.

Obviously 103 pages of words don’t make much difference in the transition, only people do. But a common roadmap and a first set of focused actions surely help.

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Related posts under the topic Finland

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Product guy – know your theories

Aristotle shutterstock_112275572 500px wide

Every product looks like a winner at the time of its inception. It’d better. What would be the point otherwise? Unfortunately, between the go-decision and the delivery date, things tend to change. Even if the plan would hold – and that’s a big if – the world around the product will surely change. That is not all bad news because conquering the uncertainty and delivering the better future is a part of the thrill. It’d be so boring to have the perfect crystal ball (well, not really, but let’s move on).

“Is that a fact? Or an opinion?”

By definition, the uncertainty also means that there are, strictly speaking, no facts about the future. Only opinions. And probabilities. Yet product decisions have to be made.

An easy way out is to declare opinions as facts. The product guy can declare, as the urban legend goes about one Nokia exec: “Yes, for me this is an opinion. But for you, dear team, this is a fact. So just go do”.

That kind of works. Sometimes. But for most people because of luck, not skill.

A better way is to do the hard work and think your way through. But not factually, because that is not really possible because there are no facts, remember.  The product guy must think conceptually, and for that some simple theories can provide the framework.

Theories are useful because surprisingly often you don’t need to know the exact number. You just need to know whether your parameter is more or less than something that the competitors are likely to have or what consumers would expect. Or whether your product will provide more of the same, or something different. In other words, a good theory can give answers that math can’t.

Knowing which side of the gravity you are, or which ballpark you plan to play at, will often be enough, because at the end, everything in the market place is relative and contextual. In absolute terms, the E.T. looks like a cheaply manufactured plastic toy (a direct quote from my 12-year old goddaughter this Christmas). But what really matters is that in 1982, when the movie came out, it looked as real (or more real) than the movie aliens that had passed the audience test before. And, more importantly, the E.T. wasn’t the umpteenth science-fiction story about inter-galactic heroes in colorful tights, but a new kind of heartwarming story about a lonely boy who finds a new friend (Ed. note: This is a long post, so fully okay to have a small break here in case you get emotional)

Old skool theories rule

Now, I don’t want to take away anything from the How-to and 7-steps (upgraded to 10 with the emergence of the internets) type of books (especially if I end up writing one of those one day) but for product work it is a good idea to keep the theory base simple. The review meeting tends to be long enough, even without the one-hour theory class up front.

Old theories have not only the odd chance of people knowing them already (meaning, saving time), but also tend to have survived the test of time. For example, the insightful wisdoms of great Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates have remained relevant for millenniums. The simple persuasion principles of ethos, pathos and logos have aided great speakers from William Wallace and Bill Clinton to Herb Brooks.

Great theories also, unlike for example Police Academy movies, get better over time, including the time after death. Once, one particular Nokia EVP declared in one strategy sharing: “There is only one management guru I believe in, and he is Peter Drucker……and he is dead.” To this day it is unsure whether he trusted him because he is dead, and hence can’t change his mind, or because Drucker’s theories outlive the guy himself. I believe the latter. That may not be just luck. Peter.F Drucker (1909-2005) honed his theories over 60 years from the time of pre-WWII to post-war to industrial revolution and all the way to the information revolution, teaching his last class in 2002 at the age of 92.

Also keeping it simple worked for Rocky Balboa. He did beat Ivan Drago at Russian turf, with the good old training technique of carrying logs and doing sit-ups at the barn. And an inspirational playlist.

Last, Aristotle was again ahead of this time when he believed logos (logic, reason) is most often the foundation. Again, that’s not to say all three wouldn’t be important. It is just that the people who occupy the Corporate Board Room tend to have an alpha dog personality. They do want to see the product guy display passion – eye of the tiger and burning heart – but at the end, they need the product guy to provide foremost the logos. That’s because they themselves are happy to provide the pathos and ethos when the time for the product launch or the hero article in Fortune comes.

Choosing your theories

You need to decide yourself what is your playbook. What matters as much is that you, the product guy, have done your homework on the theories you choose. You may not need to be lecturing them into your nineties, but you need to know them well enough to be able to apply them in your own thinking and in your own argumentation logic.

In my years at Nokia, I learned to use four core theories:

  • 4P’s – Product, Price, Place, Promotion. This split of marketing mix – actually not invented by Philip Kotler, the author of Marketing Management, but by a guy called Jerome McCarthy in the 60’s – is as classic as it gets, and one of the (rare) things that I actually remembered from the Business School. True to the nature of marketing, there are so many variations (7P, 4C) that it can get confusing. Hence, I use this theory mostly as a checklist to remember to direct my attention holistically. For anyone with a geeky streak, it’s so easy to get carried away with the Product P and think that all the other P’s fall into place afterwards somehow. They usually don’t. And by the time you notice that you may have locked some of the product parameters – such as design or component list (i.e. Bill of Material) – making the sales and marketing job the equivalent of trying to cast Leslie Nielsen into a serious role.
  • Technology adoption cycle. This simple social behavior model puts some bones on why the product guy’s excitement over some thing is often met with a blank stare from the sales guy. I have found out that theory holds well in the mobile and consumer electronics in general. There’s an evolution of the theory called “chasm theory” by Geoffrey Moore. I have found that useful too, though with the caveat that it is easy to mistake the differences in context with the differences in need between the segments (see e.g. my post about QWERTY users and their need for smartphone).
  • Disruptive innovation theory. All good will come to an end at some point, or at least carrying it too long can result in this “yeah…I am supposed to be wowed but I am not “ feeling that can be borderline embarrassing, like watching Bud Fox/Charlie Sheen cameo in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”. I’ve found Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation theories to be really helpful in understanding the dynamics as industries mature and collide, resulting in multiple ways to “get the job done”. Compared with the previous theories, the disruption theory is much newer and much more complicated to apply. Hence, like in the case of Nokia Nseries being steamrolled over by Apple, I’ve been able to use this theory mainly in the Flash Forward or the C.S.I. way (i.e. to reconstruct what is about to happen or decipher what did just happen) than in the Armageddon way (i.e. to prevent it from happening).
  • The DVD minibox of Band of Brothers. This is my choice, but you may interchange it to any story about respect and humility, provided by your favorite religion, book, movie or TV-series. Further, as an anti-gun, anti-war type of guy, I definitively do not want compare the horrors of war with the cozy life of modern corporate world. Yet I feel the importance of personal reflection about one’s own role in any challenging endeavor comes across well in the quote from Major Dick Winters:

Winters quoted a passage from a letter he received from Sergeant Mike Ranney, “I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No… but I served in a company of heroes.'”

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Happened in the previous episodes of Product Guy series

Stay tuned for the next episode: Product guy – make one scoreboard (scheduled when ready)

 

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Intro to Product Guy series

In the quest of becoming a product guy – *) see definition later – there is little substitute for learning by doing. Surely, education and training will always matter, but some things are really only learned in the trenches.

I had the privilege of working in the product making of Nokia for many years, both in the high- and low-end as well as with just software as well as device product (hardware and software).

Those years and the people I worked with, or role modeled after, resulted in a certain way I think innovative, focused and results-oriented product management should be – or at least could be, as there is no one truth – run.

I plan to write up those ‘rules of thumb’ in this blog in the next month or so. Doing so was actually requested by at least one friend who reads this blog (so I have an audience and I could have written “people asked me to”…) but my main motivation is my own reflection for the benefit of my own learning. So expect a lot of sports, movie and popular culture analogies…

Now, ex-colleagues and ex-fellow product makers, if you want to direct my journey on where to focus, please comment in. You can also do it privately via my personal email, LinkedIn messaging, the Facebook page or the email jp(at)realboxscore.com

*) Definitions: Different companies use different terminologies for the roles at the intersection of marketing, strategy and engineering. What Nokia people usually call Product Manager is in some companies (such as Microsoft) called Program Manager. Some less “tech capability-constrained” companies (such as some FMCG, fast moving consumer goods, companies) may call the same role Product Marketing. Anyhow, I am talking of the person and the team who figures out what customers/consumers want and guides the organization in the journey to make that happen, sometimes from ‘cradle to grave’. Wanting to avoid the attention-diverting definition rat holes, I will just call the role ‘product guy’. Also as the topic is complex enough already, I will just simplify it to ‘guy’ instead of ‘guy or gal’.

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Like in the movies

shutterstock_109546616_cinema tix 500pxMy Mayan predictions for the mobile industry raised some eyebrows. In facebook comments I was even (kiddingly) called evil. Bear in mind that my predictions were written a little bit tongue in cheek. But only a little bit. Meaning that I am serious about those things happening, but not serious of them being the end of the world. So don’t be worried. I am not in doom and gloom, but more energized about the future than ever.

Taking a chapter from the PR book of the Mayas, let’s just agree the apocalypse will just be the beginning of a new era.

What will the new era of the mobile industry be like? Is it a movie plot we’ve already seen? Will everything go like in the movies?

Yes. And no. But let me guarantee it’s not going to be a gloomy one like “2012” or “Day After Tomorrow” but something totally else.

For some, the mobile industry is going to be more like the plot of Hangover (if you are not familiar, check IMDB), a group of established guys who keep on trying to reconstruct piece-by-piece what did just happen and how to adapt. The casting is also appropriate. The two main characters are the trendy guy with a sneaky streak and the more serious geeky guy who has problems staying in control. And there’s the third guy – the outcast who tries hard but usually just somehow messes up. Fittingly, the plot has long tail sequel potential in so many emerging markets.

For others, the new era of mobile is going to be like the plot of Forrest Gump (if you are not familiar, do us both a favor and stop reading this blog), a story of vision, talent and skills relevant in so many places. Or in corporatespeak, “assets and capabilities horizontally deployable in untapped, adjacent verticals and market contexts”. For example, people knowing about how to get and manage sensorial and location data from mobiles may end up being in big demand by the industries trying to build automated machinery such as miners or cranes. Or augmented reality experts realize that while it is useful to develop camera algorithms to sort out that the Pizza sign in front of the user actually is…..drum roll, please….a pizzeria, it can be really useful to use the same technologies and principles to sort out different kind of things to recycle.

Like they say, there’s no business like show business.

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My takeaways of #2030fi ICT forum

In the field of computer science and information technology (which Finns, for whatever reason, call ICT) “the Nokia cluster” (loosely speaking) created a lot of globally competitive capability and wealth to Finland. And, importantly, along came the jobs as the way to share that wealth.

What a nice ride. But then what? Was that a one-timer? Or can the country renew itself like Silicon Valley has time after time as new technology waves emerge. That’s the question that is burning in the heads of private and public leaders right now.

In April, the Prime Minister of Finland, Jyrki Katainen, set up a task force to make recommendations on the topic and asked the well-known Nokia alumni, ex-Nokia President Pekka Ala-Pietilä to head the work.

In the past few weeks or so, I have been working in a related subproject. So I got an invitation to join a “progress review” event – Kitkaton Suomi, ICT Tulevaisuusfoorumi – yesterday. In the spirit of transparency, the whole 3,5 event is available as a webcast here, in case you are interested. You can also check tweets using #2030fi tag. Or read the editorial of the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper (available also online, in case your paper guy didn’t make it in the snowstorm)

In short, my learnings were:

  • It is easy to be cynical about “think tanks”. Like people can be about corporate strategy workshops (me? Never). I try now not to be. The future of technology business in Finland is too important. Or may be it is easy for me to be open-minded because the public-private club (it did feel like a club) is all so new to me. Doesn’t matter. As always, much about getting stuff done is about the attitude
  • Academic folks can teach us simplification. The keynote speaker in the event was a Santa Fe University Professor called Brian Arthur talking about the impact of digitalization. It’s not like he revealed something I hadn’t known, but once again, I was in awe of the skill of reduction and simplification academic folks possess. It is really hard and something Finland needs to be able to do to tell its story. Like Mark Twain once said “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long letter”. You see his speech in the webcast, but it is also available as a six-page, one column note in McKinsey Quarterly.
  • Prime Minister Katainen “gets it”. Or listens to the right people. Or can memorize song sheets effectively. Any which way, you pick the political tonality that suits you. My point is a rather hopeful one that people in charge understand that – like re-orgs in big companies – big structural changes (for example, merging municipialities) is the golden opportunity to fix some of the fundamentals for enabling new things.
  • There is more progressive thinking that one might expect. Some of the talk, for example, about “Public ICT Beta Labs” was very encouraging. Governmental services could be the first paying customer that helps small companies to perfect their product. And importantly, there are practical ways to do it in a way that is faster and yet more flexible than public procurement process, but yet fair.
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Plenty of Nokia alumni at Redesign 925 seminar

Yesterday I attended the open seminar of the 925 (nine-to-five) project, a ways-of-working re-design project done in the context of Helsinki being World Design Capital 2012.

The house was packed, especially with plenty of Nokia alumni. This wasn’t surprising at all because one of the primus motors of the initiative, Pekka Pohjakallio, is so known in the alumni.

I do believe, however, that many Nokia alumni people joined because the topic was highly interesting. I definitively did. I can’t say I had an epiphany on anything, but the time was well spent on reflection.

When it comes to innovating the ways of working, I think Nokia was a mixed bag. The seminar reinforced my perception that in many ways Nokia was – and probably still is – highly progressive, and invested a lot of effort to make employees both happier and more productive. At the same time, due to its sheer size and rollercoaster performance, it was also the place where every single bad habit got amplified. When the project went through their “things to fix” findings  (based on 1500 interviews and 9 partner companies, Nokia not being one), you could see the alumni folks nodding in sync.

I think the project also hits in the gap in the Finnish business scene. There’s been a truckload of technology initiatives to make work life better, and at the other end of the spectrum, there’s been the human sciences-driven, somewhat academical study on work-life balance. I do believe that there’s untapped ground in the middle – something more practical, more driven by improving the quality of the work (not just reducing hours) and something less judgmental of what is optimal work-life biorhythm for different people. And the “habit design” -led way the team is advocating might be a practical way to get some change actually happening.

Some links:

 

 

 

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Why I like to use the word ‘Nokia alumni’

 

I have consciously tried to use the word ‘Nokia alumni’ when talking of people that have worked for Nokia, including myself.

Alumni is not (yet) a super common word outside native English speakers, but it is steadily creeping its way into, for example, the Finnish dictionary (see e.g. the pages of the university I went to). It simply is such a good word.

The tonality of the word ‘alumni’ captures, in my opinion, the life-long learning and relationships one gains when working for a big corporation (or any other big common cause) better than, for example, “ex-Nokian”. Hot businesses come and go, but learning and relationships are built to last.

I am also convinced that a lot of Nokia alumni will again be a part of something great. There is just too much mileage, energy in the tank and deep skills to go wasted.

That’s also how the world works. For example, the alumni of Hewlett-Packard, the first success story of Silicon Valley, played a significant role in the next waves of the Valley growth. As an another example, basketball took a major step as a sport not at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, but after it. Why? Talented players who had been stars in their own teams saw up, close and personal how hard the other talented people worked, and vowed to become even better. Glued to the television, many kids and teenagers experienced all this via TV – such as Dirk in Germany, Manu in Argentina and Yao in China – paving the way to a new generation of international players. Consequently, the next 10 years after Barcelona the game just got better and better.

Don’t get me wrong. It will be a long road to any kind of gratification for being ‘Nokia alumni’. And there will be many rehab hurdles that people need to go through. Things are likely to get first worse before they get better. All companies are different than Nokia. Start-ups certainly are, but people tell me that so are many big companies (different meaning just different, not good or bad). And as people have a tendency to hire people they know and trust, there is a risk of “Nokia alumni cliques” inside the new companies that may result in resentment. Last, the journey of Nokia alumni is in such early chapters that even the exact role of Nokia, the company and its not-yet alumni, in the resurrection story is open.

One thing is for sure. One day, someone will publish a slide gallery of the Nokia alumni that will be as impressive as the one made of Apple today (see Forbes: Apple alumni & how they went to change the world)

Behind the Forbes link, you’ll learn, for example, that Queen Rania of Jordan is also of Apple alumni. And that, in fact, she met the future king when going to a dinner party with a co-worker. Interestingly, she worked at Apple in 1993 which certainly weren’t the finest hours of the rise-fall-rise-rise of the company .

Now, I certainly am not suggesting that chasing Madeleine, Carl Philip or Pippa is the wisest way to spend your Nokia bridge money. All I am saying is that ‘alumni’ is a word that best captures the potential of the Nokia people, and the world will hear of those people in many different ways.

 

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The mysterious green boat next to Nokia House

Everyone who has spent a lot of time at the Nokia house in Espoo, Finland knows the green boat. It lies at anchor so beautifully and elegantly at the middle of the bay, as if it was a carefully thought out part of the landscape design. It also rarely moves anywhere, providing some much needed sense of stability for the employees. In fact, it moves so little that – like Stephen Elop correctly mentioned in the Engadget interview yesterday – it has been the target of countless spy boat jokes over the years (the common denominator being that the boat outlasts the companies who spy).

But do you know the real history of the boat? And that its name is M/S Wilhelm Carpelan. Now, and after 15 years of staring at it, I do. This is all thanks to Harri Kiljander from Nokia alumni (the ex-UI chief of Nseries) who has built a wikipedia article dedicated to the boat. Thank you very much, Harri!

If you know more anecdotes about the boat, do not hesitate to share. For example, I am pretty sure I saw a snowboard video being shot there during the last winter (or the previous one, time goes so fast). Some snapshots or youtubes over that would be so awesome.

For more pictures, see also Valtteri Eroma’s tribute flickr collection

Picture credit: Harri Kiljander (via Wikipedia)

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Do you learn anything useful in a Big Corporate?

Last week several Nokia alumni and current Nokia people sent me the link to a blog post called Nokia Startups Mistake #1 – a CEO who can’t sell or lead the product

The Nokia reference in the header ends up feeling quite provocative to many, no matter how much the author, Mika Marjalaakso, tries to ground it in his reasoning for the series of posts. The header implies a causal relationship between being from Nokia and being prone to suck as a start-up CEO. I don’t think it is true. There are so many different ways to suck as a leader that even a mammoth like Nokia hasn’t managed to find them all.

Having said that, it is easy to agree that there will be a large absolute number of startup failures with Nokia alumni at the helm, simply because of the supply-side math. So many people are now trying their wings, partly helped by Nokia’s funding and severance packages.

So this is a good topic to talk about, and I will be following keenly the discussion. The provocation aside, the blog post does raise a broader point about the readiness of big corporate alumni to lead start-ups.

It is much easier to learn deep, specific skills in a big corporation than broad, general or business management (profit/loss) skills. The reason is simple. Even for the brightest and the slickest, it can take up to 10 years to advance to a position where one can get hands on the steering wheel of the aircraft carrier.

When I was a thirty-something I thought it was a tenure thing, like in the army, created by the old farts to screw the more capable generation. Later (and when I became the elder) I started to think it is also a safety thing. Inexperienced hands steering big ships can cause incredible damage.

So, consequently, the Big Corporate people are hosed in two alternative ways when they try to move to the start-up scene. Either, they’ve not advanced into general management enough of jobs to learn those GM skills inside the big corp. Or, alternatively, they’ve done so, but it has taken so long that they have become totally institutionalized into certain way of running things.

Pretty depressing logic, eh? There must be another side to this story. There must be also unique learning you get only when working inside the big ship. That reflection I am going to be working on, and I look forward to hearing your reflections too.

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The history of ‘j-p’s box score’ blog

The predecessor of this blog was my internal Nokia blog that ran in the company’s intranet between February 2006 and July 2011.  If you are Nokia alumni, or still currently working there, you might have a recollection of this header banner.

j-p' s box score banner

As you perhaps could, and still can, tell, the photoshop work was my own late night effort. That was how the internal blogging scene inside Nokia got started. It wasn’t any corporate initiative, but the whole community emerged out of skunkworks of a bunch of web-savvy communications, IT and other Web 2.0 people. It was a lot of fun for us who had much to say.

I ended up writing hundreds of posts during that five year run, and got to know a lot of super-smart people I wouldn’t have dealt with through normal daily work. Also, I wasn’t short on topics, as so much happened during those five years.  When the blog launched N95 was still deep in the labs, and the Nokia CEO was still Jorma Ollila…

Towards the end of those five years, my blogging got more infrequent.  As the performance of the company started to decline, the whole blogosphere and internal debate started to lose its steam. Some of the most active blogger and Web 2.0 enthusiasts leaving the company didn’t help. I also couldn’t help but to wonder if the remaining generation of employees was perhaps a little scared about letting it all out  – that may be understandable, when people were let go left and right.

The technical problems of the blog platform didn’t help either. The internal blog platform ran on skunkworks-based Movable Type platform, which was awesome for us semi-geeks to use, but not-so-surprisingly a looming headache for the platform IT guys. That technical debt combined with IT cost cuts led to big maintenance problems. As my blog was one of the largest legacy ones, my tools started to have massive stability problems. All that made blogging less fun. The final nail was the selection of Microsoft SharePoint as the new blogging platform. I try to say it diplomatically – it may be a great tool for those people whose life revolves around Microsoft Office document lifecycle management, but for the rest of us, including the poor souls trying to use it for blogging, it was pretty much a disaster. So in July 2011, I called it quits with the ‘j-p’s box score’, and so did many others with their blogs. This episode was (again) also a great lesson about any project the content creation of which is dependent on the extracurricular effort of people – tools make a difference. Luckily, during the last months before I left Nokia, I saw some hope again through a tool called SocialCast. That, while not that good for “traditional blogging”, definitively works in driving up dialogue and debate.

In all fairness, my own blogging behavior was also impacted by my own career development. During those five years, I moved closer to the command tower of the company, namely towards the inner circle of product decisions. In 2009, I got promoted to a Product VP of Mobile Phones. Nokia being a product company, I inevitably started to be in the “insider lists” for so many initiatives – and, believe me, when a company is in decline there are many – which made participating to many juicy internal debates difficult. For example, if people debate the future of some product line, and you know that the decision has been made to can the whole thing, the outcome options for joining a discussion are pretty much (1) breaking confidentiality, (2) looking like a moron or (3) staying away. The last option was most often the easiest.

Even if I didn’t have any inner circle information, I needed to be aware that my comment might be interpreted as one. Throughout these years, I surely gained some appreciation on the balancing act executives need to do. On one hand, executives have to be authentic and shy away from “who can memorize the propaganda Q&A best” game. But on the other hand, little good will come out from giving information first to those who scream the loudest, or from engaging to every conversation out there just because it is suddenly possible.

And the name Box Score?

Well, “box score” is a sports term, originally from baseball but widely used in the context of basketball and baseball. It means the statistical breakdown of a game. In the scoreboard, you may see that the game ended Team White winning over Team Blue, 96-77. Ok, great. But how did that happen? And why? That picture you start to get when you look at the box score – points, rebounds, steals, assists, blocks, possession and so on.  Everything depends on everything. You may be in awe of your team’s offensive rebound tally, but you also need to ask the question that would it actually be better to have less of those, and more baskets made with the first attempt.

Back in 2006, I felt that making great products is as big of mystery as building a consistently winning sports team. So many interdependent and independent things must come together in a way that it all makes sense. It can be ruthless, one mistake can overshadow ten great things. And the complexity doesn’t stop there. Anyone can win one lucky game under the right circumstances. But how do you do it again and again? And how do you deal with the adversity when things don’t go your way. All this is very hard, and in order to understand the sum, you really need to understand the parts. I still feel that way

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