Saturday, July 24, 2010

Save the Date

Though this nice uber creative Save-the-date is never to be used, i will keep it.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

On the science of happiness...

An excerpt from "Delivering Happiness", by co-founder and financier Tony Hsieh, Chapter 3, p. 78:

Streams of giant green laser beams were shooting throughout the entire warehouse, which was the size of ten football fields. Fog machines helped create a sense of dreamlike surrealism as everyone faced the DJ and moved in unison to the beat of the music. Cars of Red Bull were strewn everywhere, and ultraviolet black lights caused the fluorescent decorations on the walls and ceilings to glow as if they were alien plants transported from another universe.

But it wasn't just about the decorations, or the massiveness of the warehouse. Something else about the scene and moment elicited an emotional response from my entire being that was completely unexpected, and I couldn't really place my finger on exactly what it was or why I felt that way.

I tried to analyze what was different about this scene compared with the nightclub scene that I was more accustomed to. Yes, the decorations and lasers were pretty cool, and yes, this was the largest single room full of people dancing that I had ever seen. But neither of those things explained the feeling of awe that I was experiencing that was leaving me speechless. As someone who is usually known as being the most logical and rational persona in a group, I was surprised to feel myself swept away with an overwhelming sense of spirituality--not in the religious sense, but a sense of deep connection with everyone who was there as well as the rest of universe.

There was a feeling of no judgment, and as I glanced around the warehouse, I saw each person as an individual to be appreciated for just being himself or herself, dancing to the music.

As I tried to analyze what was going on in more detail, I realized that the dancing here was different from the dancing I usually witnessed in nightclubs. Here, there was no sense of self-consciousnesses or feeling that anyone was dancing to be seen dancing, whereas in nightclubs, there was usually the feeling of being on display somehow. In nightclubs, people usually dance with other. Here, it seems that almost everyone was facing the same direction. Everyone was facing the DJ, who was elevated up on a stage, as if he was channeling his energy to the crowd. It almost felt like everyone was worshiping the DJ.

The entire room felt as if one massive, united tribe of thousands of people, and the DJ was the tribal leader of the group. People weren't dancing to the music so much as the music seemed like it was simply moving through everyone. The steady wordless electronic beats were the unifying heartbeats that synchronized the crowd. It was as if the existence of individual consciousness had disappeared and been replaced by a single unifying group consciousness, the same way a flock of birds might seem like a single entity instead of a collection of individual birds. Everyone in the warehouse had a shared purpose. We were all contributors to the collective rave experience.

I didn't know it at the time, but ten years later I would learn that research from the field of the science of happiness would confirm that the combination of physical synchrony with other humans and being part of something bigger than oneself (and thus losing momentarily a sense of self) leads to a greater sense of happiness, and that the rave scene was simply the modern-day version of similar experiences that humans have been having for tens of thousands of years.

In the moment though, I felt a sense of experiential epiphany. It swept through my entire being. I n that instant, I suddenly understood the appeal of the techno music. I couldn't simply listen to it the way I listened to music on the radio. I had to let if flow through me in the context of a mind-set that I hadn't really experienced until just now. It was like someone had bestowed on me the Rosetta Stone of techno music, and no amount of verbal explanation would have helped me understand it. I had to experience it for myself.

And in that one instant, I did. I had awakened. I had been transformed. Finally, after all these year, I understood what the music was all about.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Just a theory

I have a theory. Here it is.

A fallacy is a false, deceptive and deceitful statement or argument. It is the opposite of evidence or fact. My theory is that people believe a theory not because of its intrinsic legitimacy or the amount of truth is carries. Their belief is highly correlated with the person who states the notion or argument, and the number of people believing that statement at the moment of theory evaluation.

If the above holds, then my theory's corollary is that people do not believe in evidence or truths. They believe in propaganda. They borrow rationality from an outside source, mainly status and headcount, in order to believe in, and hence reinforce a statement or notion. As the process grows in a viral fashion and turns into a vicious circle, it feeds into the notion like fire and gives it more power, clout and credibility.

This is why media is a dangerous and powerful voice. And that's the voice of truth is unheard.

That's why artists who can't adhere to their legend fail, and those who live up to the image they are projecting succeed.

That's why writers who can relate the unshakable human emotions make it, and those who write to please their editors fail.

My theory is simple, and since I don't have status, it will take a heck of a lot of people to believe it. Then it will become truth. Just like the theory predicted.

So what comes first - truth or belief? If you understand my theory, the answer is yours.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Autobituary of a dying man [Part 2 - Take 1]

During the summer of 2009, he refused to intern because none of the remaining opportunities he was able to find were worth spending his time on. Jack felt that was the perfect time for him to take a sabbatical summer and do something he really likes for a change. That’s when he remembered earlier events in his life: his novel at age 14, his play at age 19, his unique name that had a lot of bearing on his social life, his unique nickname that only refers to him wherever one can find it online, and his knack for inventing and torturing fictitious characters before making them heroes.

He also remembered his mentors; random wise and very particular people life put on his way to benefit from. Hung at the tip of their words and stories, he learnt that listening would be the strongest tool he could ever acquire. Listening to such incredible people helped him leapfrog his age group and become a premature prisoner of his old mind in a decaying forever-young wannabe society. That only allowed him to approach women older than him with a stunningly daring mind and unbelievable ease, but also prevented him from being able to completely connect with young women of his age due to their relative younger mental age.

All the weird and unusual events of his life served as fodder for his ideas, and his fertile mind served as the brewery for the story to come up with gems of plots. And that’s how he soon embarked on a journey to write his second—and last book. He wanted it to be his master opus. So he worked on it mostly by night. As a young teenager of 12, he used to let everybody go to sleep, sneak out to the dining room with a candle, and in the dark, he used to sit in a cold and quiet room where he was alone with ink, paper and a plethora of imaginary worlds, characters and stories.

He wanted to reproduce this same old combination of space, time and emotions. That’s why he partially had changed his hairstyle to what it was 16 years earlier. At times, the feeling of being unlawful and betraying the young dreamer he had left behind as he grew up gave him the creeps. Not disappointing the boy inside the man was an obsession he grew up with, fearful of bad surprises and sad endings.

In 2010, he graduates with a lot of useful tools, a ton of ideas, a great global network of peers and an overall very fun experience. He decides to go back to his birthplace set on building businesses that could only have positive impact on society. He wasn't the avid capitalist he thought he'd become anymore. All he was interested in was how he could create businesses that can earn reasonable profits while creating real added value in his community; and, mostly, how he could significantly impact his small nation and improve lives.


For many years, he went around the emerging region in the Middle East, North Africa and East Europe, taking care of some businesses he ventured with or created himself with different partners he met along the way. He was obsessed with efficiency and optimization, something he carried along from his engineering background. But also, he taught businesses to focus on their audiences, and taught them that profits are a reflection of satisfaction, loyalty and returning customers. What he wanted to proliferate was not a model, but rather, a philosophy of doing responsible business and driving positive impact in communities served by his businesses.

Ten years later, tired of helping businesses do responsible business, he realized that vile human nature was rooted deep in our behavioral patterns. The temptation to render businesses down to a pure revenue-and-cost exercise prevented many of his partners from seeing the big picture he was striving to help them see. He called it quits, sold all shares of his businesses and gave up on the modern capitalism altogether. He sold his penthouse in downtown Beirut and decided to move to a place where minds where still fertile and where a hope for a brighter future remained.

Autobituary of a dying man [Part 1 - Take 1]

Jack King, aged a few decades and some years, dies tomorrow of no reason at all. A prominent figure of the unknown world and a hall-of-famer beyond the history books, tomorrow we shall be missing a man whose work has reached so many but was known to very few.

In 1982, Jack was born in the other city known as Paris in a middle class Christian family to Zwei King, a professor of German language and Sam Bouf who was still studying for her business degree by the time she gave birth to him.

Early on, Jack was the victim of the January effect. He was sent to school in September 1984, aged 2 years and 7 months. At the Catholic school of Sagesse, he was a slave to the stimuli of his parents and teachers, dedicating his entire asocial existence to satisfying older people’s desires and requests. To externalize his childish energies, his parents let him join a scouting association where he excelled as an active member and shone to leadership from the beginning.

At age 11, he decided that he didn't want to part his hair on the right anymore. His parents were receptive after a period of resistance. They allowed him to comb his hair backwards hoping this new "western" hairstyle would not affect his grades. As expected, it did not. At age 14, he had already published his first short novel.

Having finished school obsessed with success and drunk with competition, he had little orientation and so much potential that he ended up following the herd of bright top-of-their-class students and went to a top engineering school to learn how to build things for a wage. He also decided that he was never going to be a professional violinist; so he gave up his lessons after 11 years of courses and decided to learn to sing opera.

Six years in engineering school to obtain a five year degree taught him to deal with failures and humiliation. It also taught him that things should be done in a way that satisfies the end result and not for the theoretical utopian raison-d’être they teach you about. While he was in school, he also became a man and learnt everything there is to know about unfaithfulness and what it means to the significant other.

His career promptly took off as a software engineer, working for a couple of start-ups for short periods of time. His failure to abide to a hierarchy he did not believe in made him a bad fit for mushy cultures. He spent some time off trying to become a quick millionaire selling magic products to a dupable crowd. Then he tried to start a software company, with no avail. At that stage, he learnt that things are not as easy as they may seem to the hopeful ambitious. Jack also learned that shortcuts are a thing of the software engineering world, but less so of the real one.

He left the Paris of the East and settled in the Paris of the West after that. Over there, he pretended to work. As a tech consultant, he was paid good money but knew that he was just a passenger at a station waiting for the next train. While he waited in this marvelous city of light and darkness, he learned to charm, lie, cheat, betray, love, be betrayed and overcome hatred. He also learned how to defend himself in court, while enjoying Europe by car, train or plane.

In 2008, he joined a top business school in the US, and decided to part his hair on the left side like it was when he was 11. Behind him, he left a time of false hopes and scattered dreams and a place of beautiful memories and dear images. As he started his MBA, he had high expectations stemming from the culture he was exposed to at one of the finest programs in the galaxy. But as soon as the world economy fell down on its knees due to uncontrolled greed by amoral bankers, his opportunity frontier started to shrink at breakneck speeds. And as summer of 2009 closed in, he started realizing that he was heading down a dark tunnel. Being a fan of surprises, this kind of masochistic uncertainty entertained his overly agitated mind.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dubai: Bubble or Boom -- The 1st Chicago Booth Dubai Trek

In they flew from far and, well, farther away: Chicago, D.C., Beirut, Islamabad, Delhi, and Paris. Twelve people from eight different nationalities descended on the small city-state in the night of the 13th of December with the intent of going where no Boothie or Boother had ever gone before (excluding deans Kole and Morton of course). For the first ever Chicago Booth Dubai Trek, some came with passports that needed no visas, while others had nothing but the hopes of making it happen at the gates. Luckily, everybody made it through, and the race, up and down the Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s magnificent mile, started the second day without further delay.

Of the fifty odd local and international firms we reached out to, half were prompt to answer back and we scheduled meetings with sixteen of them. Another couple of consultancies asked for a closed list of participants. And of the 100 odd Private Equity firms that mushroomed in the region at breakneck speed, we were able to talk to four of them. Also, financial institutions from the retail to corporate to investment banks were all lined up for us to meet with. With no less than 30 in the UAE alone, Booth alumni in most institutions we visited heartily facilitated the setup, jubilated at our encounter and were thrilled to take our questions and their passport-holder souvenirs—all warm and friendly Chicago-style. And on a balmy December night, the alumni finally met the D-Trekkers at the trendy Calabar, situated just at a gold nugget’s throw from the tallest man-made structure in the world, the Chicago-Trump-Tower-looking “Burj Dubai” standing at shy under 2,600 ft—and boy does Dubai abound with superlative structures…

In the meetings, consultants flexed their muscles at how independent they are from the state of the economy—quite expectedly. They excitedly spoke of the work-life balance in Dubai, generous pay packages, expensive rents and crazy traffic, hot summers and warm winters, growth potential of the region and how all that translated in their work being much more exciting than what their peers are doing in mature markets. The six global consultancies we met had no different a speech than the usual: in good times, riding high, consulting clients mostly on growth strategies, while hiring like crazy to keep up with demand; in bad times, still proud to assist ailing companies to cut costs and restructure to survive, and, allegedly, proceeding with their hiring policy to stay ready for the next upturn. The life of a consultant is constantly awesome it seems. So optimism clearly set the consultants apart from the bankers in that place where nobody ever believed it could ever get cloudy a couple of months back.

And against the odds, we met more financial institutions than consulting firms or industry groups. Looking closely though, one can see why this isn’t surprising. Dubai, like most of the Arab world, has some characteristics that make it hard for outsiders to jump on the bandwagon without a significant presence in town; a history of trust, an established reputation, cut-throat honor codes and close-knit social networks make it hard for suitcase bankers to fly from London and hit the ground running, hoping to get a significant share of the delicious pie. That’s why most global investment firms had been keen on establishing themselves in Dubai as a hub to serve the region. And just like consulting firms, most banks did not fail to point out that the bulk of their work comes from the real gold mine of the region: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Dubai is above all a base camp for the hub-and-spoke business models. On their appetite for recruiting, the bankers were all poker-faced at best and despite their similar unclear point of views, blurry analyses and discounted-of-Q4 numbers (in brief: doom for now, boom for another day), most of them failed to hide their fear about the uncertainty looming ahead of Dubai and the region. And even more so when it came to setting time lines and time framing economic cycles. Surprisingly however, all this didn’t prevent one global investment firm whose bankers looked gloomier than others from calling one of ours for an interview after our meeting. And the outcome was that they want him for another interview. The trick was that our friend, during our meeting, made sure to use a keyword dear to the ears of bankers in the Gulf: Saudi Arabia. And to look even sexier, our friend threw in another magical term in the region: Islamic Banking.

On their prospects about the future, bankers were much more reflective of the state of the financial markets and the economy in general however. They were all skeptical but had somewhat differing outlooks about the future. Yet, all agreed that the real estate boom is now going to come to rational proportions, as the market gets purified from both speculators and free-riders. The real estate dementia would grind to a halt. But albeit this healthy return to scale, most agreed that pride-laden landmarks, especially those funded directly by the Maktoum ruling family, are more than likely to be completed despite the fact that the credit crunch has caught up with the region. That said, nobody was really worried about Dubai’s economy, and most expected Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich big-sister state, still awash with cash, to come in for the rescue at any moment as soon as Dubai decides to slim down its less-than-rational list of development. So the World islands and other lalaland-ish projects will not be completed—at least not during this downturn…

And last but not least, this piece on the miracle-city of the Gulf would not be complete if we don’t dedicate a word or two to the infamous Dubai traffic. The only means of intra-city transportation offered to the public in the UAE is taxi cabs—in two versions of course: the Toyota for the average expats, and the Lexus to insure that those who cab it out of the DIFC (Dubai International Financial Center) during rush hours get ripped-off. Soon however, the Sheikh Zayed metro line—yet another reasonable project?—will be up and running. Then, they’ll probably have a shadow of a solution to the jam-packed Sheikh Zayed Road by having a hopefully little congested elevated train that barely covers the main vein of Dubai, a la Chicago Loop, and that little to no people would use in a place where everybody owns a car.

It is hard to say whether Dubai is a boom or a bubble. Even the bankers and consultants over there tried to dodge that question. It is obvious though that everybody is still there, still betting on the future and expecting this fresh and very young experiential economy to take its time and correct itself. In a place where it is a shame to fail, it is hard to even envision the doom and gloom scenario. As long as there is pride and a lot of ego involved—backed with black gold and megalomaniac ambitions—as it usually is in that part of the world, odds are things will be fine in a near future. As for the D-Trekkers, overwhelmed by the presentations they attended from dusk till dawn, they did not fail to investigate the truth about the work-life balance of Dubai. So every night was an occasion to go out… and, yes: some long lasting friendships kicked it off and some really close ties, indeed, did get created...

Friday, November 07, 2008

GSB goes Booth! What’s in a name - just a sketchy change?

Remember, remember, that time in November! That time when the wind of change did more than just blow over a mild Windy City – a time when change sent us a blow on the head as we sipped warm champagne and munched on cold hors-d’oeuvres in the crowded Rothman Winter Garden. As if November starting off warmer than October wasn’t eyebrow-raising enough, we would soon witness two very significant changes that would top all the craziness that had surrounded us till then in 2008: from our admission to the best graduate business school in the universe and those ridiculously awesome random walks, all the way to Turbo Micro midterms and the crash of the financial markets.

A couple of days after the United States elected the first African American president in an unprecedented sweeping victory—Barack Hussein Obama, Kumbaya!—, setting the bar high in terms of democracy, freedom and opportunity for the rest of the world, the Wind of Change strikes again. Just when we thought that was enough change for our slow-paced laid-back Midwest, we witnessed another twist of events that felt like a slap-on-the-face this time, for more than just sentimental reasons. Just as we thought we had seen it all and that we had stepped into a new era, we received a rather unusual email from Dean Ted Snyder. At 4 PM on that unforgettable Thursday, Ted Snyder emails the entire GSB family saying he wants to “share a historical moment with us” in the Winter Garden. The Chicago, then, GSB heard the “what-the-heck-was-that-about” question resonate across its named halls and rooms. Personally, that sent bad vibes down my spine. Curious to know what the Dean wanted to share with us, we gathered around “free” food and drinks (hoping it was not cut out of our own tuition fees, right?) in the Rothman Winter Garden, leaving the Kolver Café, the Peter M. May Student Lounge, the Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse and Eugene Fama classrooms, as well as the Ida Noyes hall all empty as a booth-town (‘booth’ meaning ‘ghost’ in Hindi).


6:00 PM beeped on some geeky Casio watches. The Harper Center soon became the center of attention of the universe, attention rose and silence fell upon the crowd, as we held tight to our champagne flutes while a sharp-looking Dean Snyder splashed the news right to our faces from his tribune, stopping the breath in our throats. David Booth, a prominent investor and MBA alumnus who had carved his hedge fund business around Chicago GSB concepts and theories pioneered by Eugene Fama and other finance geniuses of our time, had just donated $300M. Not all cash, but he broke a lot of records by far. A great victory for higher education in this country and a greater one for the prestigious University of Chicago. But what did our glorious and top-tier B-school get for that? It got the B-name: Booth.

Chicago Booth. Kind of like the Chicago Bulls. But not as bullish. Kind of like Wharton, but not as outstanding. Kind of like Kellogg, but not as amusing. Not like Stanford anymore. Because, we have a name now. Damn the miseries of our weak endowment! Just when we started to become more known internationally and as we started to work on expanding our treks and getting our (ex-) name out there, somebody thought the timing was right to confuse people getting used to our brand, on those rankings, media channels and business cards. When somebody plunks down an insane amount of money to get the naming rights to a school, what are they really paying for? I'm in B-school now, so I'm allowed to say the B-word: Brand?! But in this instance, it was all about the endowment and not the brand. Although David Booth put up the right kind of money to crank up our endowment, I don’t think the brand got the same push our funds witnessed. This, I am afraid to say, was not an association with (more likely usurping of) what was really the work and achievements of generations of faculty and scholars who have come before. Isn’t it somewhat unrighteous for a single person to be able to lay claim to that just by opening his (fat) wallet? Can you imagine - Prof. Eugene Fama winning the Nobel Prize next year and they introduce him as the Distinguished Professor of Finance at the Booth School of Business?

I am curious to know what the alumni feel about this? Is it not up to that living organism of 33,000 strong businesspeople populating the globe from Wall Street to London, Hong Kong and Rio to make that decision? Doesn’t it feel like our identity has just been stolen and that an entire community's brand has just been sold to the highest bidder? Is this the only way to double our humble endowment? Is this the best solution the top business school in the universe can come up with? You may say my arguments don’t hold. Just imagine some Sheikhs from the Middle East throw some billions and save the US economy (cf. Sovereign funds). Would they want to call it the United States of Arabistan? If you said “yes” to that, we have a lineup of great courses for brand management in our Marketing Department: 37101, 37102 and 37203 (since we are so obsessed with numbering everything in this place). Alas none of those courses, I am afraid, teaches us "how to raise $300M of funds in one word".

I guess I am being too harsh; I should be a sport, get on the free market wave we are so keen about at our innovative school and enjoy the game. Oh - and I just loved some of my friends’ suggestions at the BSB, “Dude, you should become a billionaire and then change the school’s name again – Jihad Khalil School of Business!”– how’d y’all like that for a brand?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Essay: Tell us why we should pick you to join the cook-off between Chicago GSB and Kellogg?

I used to live in France and am addicted to cooking with demi-sel butter. Actually, I am the one who is going to bring the (real home-made) Hummus to the next Epicurean dinner, since I am originally from Lebanon and we are known for colorful, delicious and multi-table stretching mezzes. I have been known to skew kebabs in my spare time, and I woo woman with my sensational Soupe à la fraise Savoyarde dessert. When financial markets are down, I spend my time grinding grilled eggplant to make mouthwaterting Baba-ghannouj. My pancake flipping style is legendary.

On Sunday nights, watching Entourage on HBO-E, I find myself dipping my famous home made Guacamole with my 5-minute-made tortillas -- which I cook in 2 and a half minutes. Sometimes, guests at my place are taken aback as I take out massive amounts of sirloins from my fridge and start to sauté them in sizzling salty butter and shallots, only to season them with anything I can get my hands on - and they actually end up tasting good to my by-then-drunk-on-cheap-red
-wine buddies... Little kids in my building love me for my unmatchable crispy chocolate chip cookies. And on rainy afternoons, the women of my block gather around my smoking baked potatoes soaking in butter. On hot summer days, I have been seen loudly grilling vegetables and sizzling pieces of fresh meat holding a cold bottle of beer on the decks of high rises. Chefs around the globe call me for tips. One time in the South of France, I won a Michelin star and lost it in a Casino betting on Martha Stewart becoming the next Yan Can Cook.. I also can actually cook - and do it for fun and for the love of the game.

Hope we'll be able to crunch out the cereal-loving competition!

Call me,

Been there, herd that.

So you know how it feels when you're somewhere just because somebody felt like going, and you ended up tagging along because you have nothing better -- or nothing period -- to do?

Well, I think I've been doing that quite often lately. And frankly, it hasn't been working out all so well for me. I am always feeling like I am only physically there, and my mind is elsewhere. Event tonight, while the crowd was good-looking and the joint was groovy, I felt out of place, and a couple of people asked me why I was so off or why I seemed like I am looking for something.
"I don't know.. looking for something?? well when I find it, I will let you know."

This thing has been working out all that well for me. I feel like I am losing money .. like last night's poker game. I was so not in the mood of being there. I was not in the game, and I had no game. I end up losing 50 bucks. For nothing. So I should probably stop following the herd and start doing things my way.

Like tonight. I was standing there barely pretending I was happy. Then at some point, I just walked towards the door. Focused to leave.. kept walking, got out of the joint and walked back home in 20 minutes. The best case of determination to do whatever I feel like doing myself in a while.

I am tired. Again. I need to find a way to stay on top of my duties, have fun and not be tired. I am not optimal, and I waste a lot of time...
On the other hand, I love this city. Chicago is a wonderful and lively place. Not too crowded for my taste and pretty vibrant to give you a big-city-life feeling altogether. I like its balance. Not so thrilled that I only got time to shop online... would have loved having a grocery store next door, but hey, you can't have it all.

Most of all, I am loving my school and my class is not that bad. I had worse in my previous school. Strangely enough though, I always have to deal with a different tar every time I move to a new place.. school.. or whatever. I don't know why. But I have to deal with it and I usually am.

Life goes on ever so normally. I have to work harder and more efficiently if I want to keep advancing towards my career goal.

* balance and focus *