Oops! Damage Control: I do NOT Support This Executive Order. If You do, I Still Like You. Probably :-)

Well, I reckon my self-proofreading skills are pretty poor. Perhaps I should not blog when tired.

I posted last night, after a long time dormant, because, as I stated in the entry, recent events in the U.S. are pertinent to a story I wanted to share in my blog. This blog is about my experiences on IBM’s CSC program in Jaipur, India. It is important to me that I keep my blog “real,” that it reflects my thoughts, impressions, and emotions. I do not intend to make this blog a forum for the political.  In fact, I have a distinct distaste for politics, even if my mom, who I still love, built her career in that field. But the connection between an experience I had in Jaipur and recent events was too in my face to ignore, so, respectfully, I am putting it in your face. I attempted to make a direct, pointed statement of my opinion on a controversial issue, and I failed due to the exclusion of one key word. That word, intentionally in all caps (I really am obnoxious, aren’t I?) is “NOT.”

I have since corrected the entry. The last sentence now reads “In case it is not clear, I do NOT support this executive order.” If you’re reading this and curious what this is all about, well, first of all, peace to you if you don’t share my view. We can still break bread, have coffee or beer or both, enjoy music, talk about landscaping, debate the existence of yetis, etc. Second of all, here is a link to the corrected blog entry:


By the way, I had to google the correct way to pluralize the word “yeti.”

The views expressed in this blog represent my own personal views and not necessarily those of IBM. That said, if IBM doesn’t like The Beatles, then IBM should really think about starting to like The Beatles.


Final Presentation, and It’s the Little Things

It has been far too long since I posted here. Sharing my experience has been, for me, an integral part of the program. I am aware that the CSC experience has changed me. The changes are visceral, emotional, and spiritual, and they are difficult to convey. I think that difficulty stems from the fact that, though I know the changes are there, I have still not fully digested or comprehended them. Blogging forces me to “process” the experience and at least try to understand and articulate the meaning. Blogging also seems more than a little self-indulgent. If you enjoy my musings, and/or if you get something out of them, sincere thanks, both for reading and for your patience. To those who may be reading this out of some familial or other sense of obligation, thank you, too, and I apologize for posting again 🙂 For those in that latter category, bad news: don’t think that the word “Final” in the title means this is my last blog post. I’ll share the events of our last 48 hours (+/-) in Jaipur and our “goodbyes” (in quotes because it’s not forever) in another entry, and, as promised in my first entry, I have more to say about the beginning of the process.

I use the same disclaimer at the end of each of my blog posts. I think it is important that, before I go further, I go ahead and state this now: The views expressed in this blog represent my own personal views and not necessarily those of IBM. I’ll save the part about The Beatles (flippant though it may sound, I really mean it) until the end.

I am highlighting the disclaimer early because I am going to reference some controversial events transpiring in my country over the past several days, and those are pertinent to one of the observations I had planned to talk about in a future blog post. Well, the future is here. I don’t really have time to do this tonight, but I need to get it out while it’s most relevant. For the record, I think my little story (and it is such a little story) is always relevant, but time is of the essence. We’ll get to that soon enough. First, let’s get back to the mission, and tying it up with our final presentation.

Our presentation to our client went really well. It might be more interesting to say otherwise, but I’m afraid the truth is not exciting. I can’t complain when our client’s Executive Director stands up and says “We’re going to implement all of your recommendations,” and it is clear he is not messing around. Again, the testament is to our client for seeing a problem (or, as the cliché goes, an opportunity) and pursuing its resolution.

I’ve posted a few pictures from our final presentation. Friends and family don’t really grasp what it is I do for a living. IBM’s CSC allows us to take the skills that are continuously being morphed by what we do for a living and use those in a different way, which of course feeds on itself, allowing for further development. That’s the secondary element of CSC: personal development, with philanthropy being primary. Anyway, these pictures might just give a little glimpse into the mystery of a day in the work life of Alê, John, and Preston. It looks a little like a recruiting brochure for a Big 4 Accounting firm. Except much cooler. Sorry, Big 4.

Now let’s get to that part where the disclaimer really needs to be emphasized. Often when I travel, whether for pleasure or business, it’s the little things that make a big impact. Oh boy, here I go with another cliché. Heck, I’m not even sure I haven’t already said the exact same thing in another blog entry, but I am not going to re-read them in the name of self-editing.

Anyhow, one afternoon toward the end of our 4 weeks I was getting ready to get on the elevator in our hotel. There was an older gentleman who looked like he was straddling the worlds of “I might just go into this shop” (there was, indeed, a jewelry story in the lobby of our hotel), and “I’m getting on the elevator.” I hopped on, then held the door and asked him if he was getting in. “No. I’m waiting for someone. Thank you!” The doors almost closed, and suddenly they separated like they do when someone hits the button at the last second. It’s that man, and he has someone with him that I’d guess is his son. The man is maybe in his 50s, the son, maybe in his 20s. He apologizes, and I say “No problem at all.” Sometimes I talk to strangers, and sometimes I don’t (my wife will insist I ALWAYS talk to strangers). These seemed like nice fellows, so with no intention of masking my Southern U.S. roots I said “Where are y’all from?” The dad’s reply: “Iran. Are you from the US?” “Yes sir I am.” I stuck my hand out to shake theirs and said “Cool! I do not get to meet or talk to many people from Iran. Friends!” They smiled, shook my hand, and the son said “My brother lives in the US! Illinois!” That was it. The door opened on the third floor. Time for me to get off. 3 dudes from 2 countries who in recent decades have, at best, exhibited tensions with each other, and at worst have thrown around words of war. “Y’all have a great evening!” “Nice meeting you!”

I always intended to tell this story in my blog as a (clichéd) reminder that tensions between countries are between politicians and (often abused, on all sides) ideologies, not between people. For anyone who stumbles across this blog or this entry at a later time, I am posting this on the evening of January 31, 2017, 4 days after our new President signed an executive order suspending for 120 days the entry of refugees into the U.S. and suspending for 90 days travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven countries, including Iran.

I am not here to stoke debate whether this executive order is “good,” “bad,” effective, or destructive, nor to be excessively political. You should know I am registered as an “independent,” not affiliated with any political party in the U.S. I regularly vote for members of both major parties as well as independent and “third party” candidates. I disavow all convenient political boxes: I am not conservative, I am not liberal, I am not moderate. I AM opinionated, and my opinions transcend those outdated labels. I am thinking about the two friends I made on the elevator. I am wondering if they think about our encounter and others they have had with Americans and whether I meant what I said (I did) or whether I side with our President. Or both. I don’t want to be so unfair to people who disagree with me as to suggest that someone couldn’t be their friend AND agree with our President. I wonder if they had plans to visit their brother/son living in Illinois but now cannot. In case it is not clear, I do NOT support this executive order.

So, it bears repeating, in full:

The views expressed in this blog represent my own personal views and not necessarily those of IBM. That said, if IBM doesn’t like The Beatles, then IBM should really think about starting to like The Beatles.

#ibmcsc #india32

“We Can Do No Great Things…” With All Due Respect, Are You Sure?

Sunday of our third weekend, the day after our Community Service Day, seems to be the first day off we had where nothing was planned.  We didn’t even make plans to meet at a specific time for breakfast. Somehow most of us ended up at breakfast around the same time anyway (later than normal after a long day and late dinner out), and Sylvia said “Guys, I did some inquiring and found out there is a Mass at 4:30 this afternoon. Anyone interested?” She had mentioned a day or two before that this had been the longest period of time in her life without going to Mass.

Before I go any further, yes, I am going to get into a little faith/religion in this entry, and those are topics that aren’t necessarily thought of as appropriate for the private sector workplace, certainly not in Western culture. I was surprised during our 12 weeks of pre-work and training for CSC that one assignment included an article that addressed the role of faith in the “board room.” Obviously “preaching,” proselytizing, and the like have no place in the work place, and I’m not one to engage in that sort of thing in any situation, much less at work. But the point of the article was that there is no reason for us to be uncomfortable relying on our personal faith traditions, whatever those may be, if any, when it comes to business dealings, and it is particularly pertinent to Corporate Social Responsibility programs like CSC.

I don’t mind, at all, sharing that I am a person of faith. I will say my faith is inclusive and embracing. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think anyone does, and if the second part of that statement offends you, I apologize, but that’s where I am. I think my views on things transcend mere words; some will find it contradictory to say that I fully embrace the tenets of my faith but that I nevertheless have what you might call a “liberal” theological outlook.  As far as I am concerned, one of the most beautiful, and faithful, things I can do is to embrace and accept everyone wherever they are: Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Agnostic, Atheist, and whoever else I am missing. Hugs for all, and peace and goodwill to all!

So, Natasja, Alê, and I accepted the invitation with what I’m sure were a mixture of unique and overlapping reasons. I am a Protestant, raised Episcopalian (the US version of the Church of England), and currently Presbyterian. Denominations, and even the delineations between Orthodox or Catholic or Protestant aren’t important to me. Besides, it seems like in my family history someone changes denominations or wholesale religions every time there’s a wedding. We seem to favor those that won’t frown on us having a few adult beverages, but I digress.

Our driver had a little bit of a tough time finding the church. He took us to “a” church, but it wasn’t “the” church (or even Catholic). After a few more tries we finally found it, and I’m not sure how we missed it because it was large and included a school and pretty sizeable grounds. We were greeted by a priest, in part because 4 Westerners do stand out arriving at a Mass in Jaipur, India. He shared with us that this was a special Mass, to be held outdoors, celebrating the Canonization of Saint Teresa. He escorted us to seats near the front and not far from a large number of Sisters from Saint Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. There were easily 2000 people there to celebrate Mass, perhaps more.

The vast majority of the service was in Hindi. The Old Testament lesson, from one of the chapters of Isaiah (I was paying attention!), was read in English. I know there was a New Testament reading, because one of the priests said (in English) that there would be, but, though I listened for it intently, it never came. Well, I’m sure it did, in Hindi, but that did my brain little good even if I humbly assume it did my soul some good. The music and hymns were generally not familiar. Most sounded very “Eastern” and/or Indian, some were accompanied by liturgical dance, and it was all uplifting and awesome (remember: I’m a music nut!). I spent a lot of the service contemplating what we had experienced and accomplished during the prior three weeks and at the Community Service Day just one day earlier. I know I should be listening at church, but given that I couldn’t understand most of what was being said, it seemed appropriate to the place and occasion.

One phrase that was repeated throughout the service, in English, but usually book ended by lots of Hindi, was a quote from Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” This hit me, big time. I started thinking about why I, and my colleagues, applied for the CSC program. We all do, and have for years, things in our community to make a difference, but usually they are discrete, “small” if you will. An hour here, a day there, maybe even a week. CSC gives those who are selected and deployed a chance to devote four entire weeks to serving some of the most challenging, “big ask” needs in the global community. And that is only addressing the four weeks on the ground; this doesn’t count the pre-work, nor the ongoing post deployment work inherent in the program. Even with four weeks, I know we all asked ourselves, “How much difference can we make in four weeks?” That goes beyond being a fair question to ask; it’s the right question to ask. The implications are enormous, and the possible answers are innumerable. Saint Teresa’s assertion does provide an answer. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe everything we accomplished over our four weeks as “small,” but we didn’t eradicate poverty or cure cancer, either. But I know my friends very well (I’ve called them colleagues in this blog, and they are that, too, but they are friends above all), and while we all acted out of a variety of motivations, one that I can assure you we all have in common is great love. Saint Teresa’s words brought me comfort, and they told us that rather than worrying about whether the hour, or the month, or the smile, or the ½ a leftover meal, or the 10 Rupees, make a “difference,” know that they do, especially when done with gratitude and love. Her words tell us to keep going, that the drops in the ocean do add up.

I believe that. I really do. But I also wonder if Saint Teresa isn’t challenging me/us. Why can’t I/we do great things? Isn’t that why I/we applied to CSC in the first place? In her wisdom, is she not only telling us to proceed with the “small things,” with great love, but perhaps making us a little angry and provoking us to bigger things? Well done, Saint Teresa! I am humbled to have spent some time with you in spirit during our four weeks. Long before Sylvia mentioned missing Mass, I had already thought about the fact that Saint Teresa was canonized while we were in India. To accidentally end up at a Mass celebrating that, in India, two weeks later, well, I can’t find the words to describe how that feels. Thank you, Sylvia, for initiating this serendipitous experience, thank you, IBM, for making it possible, and thank you, Sylvia, Alê, and Natasja for sharing it with me.

It’s almost midnight. My wife, Melody, is sound asleep, and the dishwasher needs to be unloaded. It’s the least I can do for now 🙂 #ibmcsc #india32


The views expressed in this blog represent my own personal views and not necessarily those of IBM. That said, if IBM doesn’t like The Beatles, then IBM should really think about starting to like The Beatles.

Community Service Day, Go Ahead and Laugh at My Scissors, and Trees!

Yes, I’ve been back from India for nearly two weeks, but I told you I wasn’t done telling the story, and I’m not! Let’s pretend we’re 3 weeks into our deployment. Once upon a time…

Every CSC team, regardless of where deployed, participates in a “community service day.” My initial thought upon hearing about this was “Isn’t every day ‘community service day’ while we’re on CSC?” Barring the rare day off, the answer is “of course!” I’d argue that even when site seeing or shopping we did something of value for the community, from contributing to the economy to simple, kind gestures and everything in between (one of my favorites being giving really delicious, nutritious, vegetarian leftover food to the poor on the streets; the “spirit bond” from that is REAL). Side note: not that I had many doubts in the first place, but the CSC experience completely crystallized for me the notion of “the world” as our community. Well, until we discover our neighbors on other planets. Hopefully they’re nice! Hmm…. hopefully WE’RE nice!

One of our 4 clients agreed to host the community service day with a focus, like that of all 4 of our projects, on women’s empowerment. No one is going to mistake me for someone getting passionately behind causes or attending political rallies. I’m a cynic, though I like to think an “optimistic cynic,” so “causes,” and “politics” are things that, at least previously, I have taken with a grain of salt. I vote, but I drink no one’s Kool Aid. Bearing that in mind, the focus on empowering communities and families through empowering women really connected with me and still does. Owing nothing to the assignment in India, and long before we arrived, I heightened my awareness and interest in gender issues, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and, well, everyone’s rights. This transcends political affiliations (of which I proudly have none) for me. I just call it “let’s all be cool to each other, OK?” Some of this comes from events in my own country and state, some of it comes from living and observing life, and those closest to me know some of it comes from recent personal/family impact. I’m happy to talk about that one on one with anyone who is interested, but let’s leave it there for the blog.

If I haven’t said it already (and, whether I have or not, I definitely WILL say it again), the cohesiveness, caring, and friendships developed across our team were remarkable, noted even by our in country partner organization. Preparing for and participating in the Community Service Day gave us a great opportunity to work more closely as a team of 10 and to mix things up a bit. We split up into 4 “new” teams to coordinate 3 rotating/parallel sessions as well as plenary and closing sessions.

Ottavia and I worked together to plan and (sort of) deliver the plenary and closing sessions. I say “sort of,” because every session needed translators. I don’t speak Hindi, but I am observant enough that it took no effort to figure out that our host essentially delivered the plenary session for us before we said a word. We collectively agreed to split the women into groups of three and send them into the rotational sessions. Ottavia took on the role of primary videographer for the day, and I was the time keeper, floating from session to session and letting everyone know it was time to rotate.

Natasja, Sylvia, and Leon led a session called “Go For It!” The workshop included an exercise involving rocks, pebbles, and sand and touched on themes of priorities and allocating finite resources. During my brief visits, the women were engaged, learning, smiling, and laughing. If there’s something else we could have asked for, I don’t know what it is!

Anna and John hosted a workshop on Financial Well-Being. This included a game with “play” money, which of course had to be created, printed, and cut into little notes. The night before the service day, I walked into the hotel conference room and saw Anna cutting the sheets of money. I ran up to my room and grabbed the small pair of kindergarten scissors that are always in my checked luggage. I’ve NEVER had occasion to use them, until now. The presence of these scissors and disclosure that I never travel without them elicited a pretty intense fit of laughter from many in the room, including Anna. I did not allow that to bother my inner “be prepared” Boy Scout, and in fact I sort of enjoyed it. I got the last laugh, as those scissors were used on more than one future occasion by teammates looking to cut labels off of various purchases.

The 3rd rotational session was hosted by Alê, Mark, and Makus. The subject was “Be Proud!” and, in addition to touching on issues of body language and posture, thanks to Markus’ totally righteous camera and photography skills, each participant left with a printed, individual photo of themselves. I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that we were told to expect 60 attendees for the community service day. We took and printed out 111 photographs. The collage prepared by Markus serves as proof. After the 1st session, the “Be Proud!” team asked for help. The crowd of ladies at twice original expectations combined with the process of teaching the material, lining them up for photos, and keeping the right printed photo with the right name for distribution meant that, by the end of the day, all 10 of us helped out with this session. The printer was nothing we’d call “fast,” so there was quite a backlog. Not wanting to keep our guests waiting (they all had the chores of their day-to-day, rural living ahead of them), we suggested that we could print them out and arrange for pickup at the community center at a later date. The women showed no interest in that option and happily gave up more of their (seriously!) in demand time to wait. They used the time to sing songs for us, encouraging a few ladies from our team to dance. In retrospect, even though I am not prone to dancing, I sort of regret not jumping in, both for fun and in keeping with the theme of breaking down gender stereotypes.


All of this fails to mention the incredible welcome we received when we arrived at the community center. Piling out of our cars, we were greeted by the fanfare of local musicians. Before long, the ladies on our team were pulled into a big dance party and given scarves to wear over their heads. The men from our team enjoyed this and took photos and videos, thinking we had escaped ceremonial and sartorial initiation. And that’s when a man walked up to John, or was it Markus, and proceeded to build a turban on his head with a long, red cloth. It doesn’t really matter who was first, because none of us “escaped.” I loved seeing how the turban was built up on our heads, and I loved wearing it. There was one problem:  it was HOT that day, so about midway through, the non-locals among us had to take them off.

Once appropriately attired, our client took us to the “back yard” of the community center, where they had arranged for each of us to plant our own tree. The idea was that they will remember us every time they see the trees. Once again, we received more than we gave, which is unfair: I get to live the rest of my life knowing there is a tree in India that I planted, and that tree is in a row with 9 other trees planted by my teammates, and it commemorates a day I will never forget during a month of experiences that are beyond what I deserve.

I’ve typed enough, and you’ve read enough for this entry. Enjoy the photos! #ibmcsc #india32

The views expressed in this blog represent my own personal views and not necessarily those of IBM. That said, if IBM doesn’t like The Beatles, then IBM should really think about starting to like The Beatles.

Pali and The Bangles. No. I Mean the Bracelets. Not the Band. They’re Cool, Too, Though.

During our week 2 workshop one of the YPs discussed some ideas she had around increasing the revenue stream to a village women’s Self Help Group (“SHG”). In addition to farming, the women contribute financially to their families by making bangles that are sold in markets and commonly worn throughout Rajasthan and India. She invited us to visit her and the women in Pali, so we arranged to go on Tuesday of Week 3.

Pali isn’t a “day trip” like our prior visit to Niwai. It’s a 4 hour drive, made more complicated by a lack of hotels approved for use in the CSC program. Our host organization arranged our transportation as well as a hotel in Jodhpur, an additional hour and a half drive from Pali.

We arrived in Pali around noon on Tuesday, and the recurring theme of “exactly where is this place?” played out yet again. Eventually our driver got in touch with the YP who sent someone to a central meeting point on a scooter. A young lady arrived and piloted our mini-motorcade to the office, her scarf flapping in the wind serving as a beacon. After a brief meeting, held during a power outage (not uncommon), we grabbed a quick lunch then headed to the village.

One lane roads (dodging oncoming cars, trucks, and cows), leading to dirt roads, driving through a stream, and then we were there. A group of 15 or so ladies were waiting for us and excited to show us how they make the bangles. The SHG focuses on a couple of the steps in the overall process, so there are some others involved in the supply chain and value stream. They showed us what they do, and then they offered us a try. I was a little fast with my rolling, but don’t think I did too badly for a first try. Alê, of course, did even better. John decided Alê and I had demonstrated enough lack of mastery for the team. The ladies then offered us masala tea and cookies. After refreshments and conversation, we asked for a group picture. This quickly turned into a selfie session, and one was taken with the whole group that turned out to be one of my favorite photos from the whole trip. Some of the ladies, and a young man, wanted some one on one selfies with us, and we obliged. The YP told us that the people in the SHG looked at us as celebrities.

That’s a strange perception to have imposed upon oneself. It made me think about the culture of celebrity in the West and especially the US. While I am certainly a fan of musicians, actors, writers, and even some athletes (I’m way more of a music guy than a sports guy), all of whom create “magical,” shared experiences and a sense of community (I believe Johnny Cash once referred to what he and others do as a “noble profession”), I am not such a fan of the insipid nature of “celebrity.” What was most unsettling about the situation (us being “celebrities”) is that, even though we tried to show it and express it, I don’t think the ladies in the village realize how much meeting them meant to us. They were the “stars” of the day, in every positive sense of that concept.

We did explore various areas in the value chain looking for ways to put more money in the pockets of the SHG, but it would not be appropriate for me to go into any detail about what we did or didn’t find and what we did or didn’t recommend. Suffice it to say our report to the client did provide recommendations for the bangle making process as well as for other potential handicraft options. I think we proposed 4 other ideas. 3 were deemed not viable by the client. I prefer to think about it more positively: they see 1 idea as having potential. #ibmcsc #india32


Dang Hippies!, Monkey Temple, My First Marathon, You Smell Like a Hospital!, Communication Breakdown, and “Cash or credit?”

My sub-team wrapped up week two reviewing the results of the YP workshop with our client’s management team. Afterwards we were ready to start a weekend in town comprised of a mixture of preplanned and spontaneous events. Those that were planned proved less predictable than the spontaneous ones.

8 of 10 team members, John and I being those excluded, had an appointment at a spa for Ayurvedic “treatments.” I typically prefer to avoid “treatments” of all sorts. As I understood it, these treatments involve something to do with “essential oils,” though no one can tell me why, if these oils are so “essential,” I have lived 49 years without them. I’m all for a variety of hippie activities (lest there be any doubt, I’m talking the legal sort, though to each his or her own). Heck, I got myself a kurta, and I now have a supremely cool bracelet and turban (more in a future blog entry). I’ve established I have unimpeachable taste in music. I’m pretty much a mangy, untamed beast with an accounting background.  Any time y’all want to get down, just holler. But I draw the line at what my dang hippie colleagues did two Saturdays ago. Apparently, and I’m not making this up, the spa poured 2 ½ liters of presumably essential (Crisco?) oil on each of their foreheads. Word has it some had trouble removing all of that oil from their hair for over a week. I warned them!

After the hippies returned, we split into two groups for lunch (the “hotel is fine” crowd and the “please ANYTHING but the hotel again crowd; to be clear, the food at our hotel is good, but after a while…). While at lunch, we all agreed we should check out Galta Ji, AKA the “Monkey Temple.” I’m going to go ahead and assume you know why this place is referred to as the Monkey Temple. The temple is in a state of what you might call “charming disrepair” (if I understood correctly, it is maintained by an Ashram; there were holy men on site collecting fees in exchange for the right to take photographs) and set in a stunning and lush valley. Walking up the stairs, we encountered pools that are fed by a spring. One was filled with pilgrims bathing/swimming as the waters are thought to wash away sins. As we approached the penultimate level, we encountered an entry way to another pool. We had hardly been there 5 seconds when a pretty sizeable monkey jumped from one wall to the next, dripping water on the heads of those standing too close. We spent the next few minutes charmed by monkeys climbing on walls and the roof line and leaping from heights into the pool like ecstatic kids.

We returned to the hotel to prepare for the evening’s big event: the First Annual Jaipur By Nite Marathon. It doesn’t matter that they only offered 5K and 10K options and that our team signed up for the 5K. It was called a marathon. I’ve got the shirt to prove it.

Per the website, the race was to start at 9:00 PM. We ate an early (for us) and light dinner so that we could leave in time to arrive by 8:30, leaving nothing to chance. We arrived at 8:15. We appeared to be the only people with bibs and dressed to run. We walked around a bit listening to the live music on stage, and a few of us noticed mosquitos and realized we had forgotten to apply repellent. I suggested that we go over to the first aid station and ask them if they had any. The gentlemen manning the station were a little confused, so I repeated the question. At that point, I noticed some intermittently spaced spray cans on the table.

Preston: “Is this DEET? Insect repellent?”

First Aid Dude: “Yes!”

Preston: “May we use some?”

First Aid Dude: “Yes!”

Leon and I, both gentlemen, always subscribe to a “ladies first” philosophy. I don’t think that’s counterintuitive to my previously mentioned devotion to women’s empowerment; it’s just part of our cultural DNA of manners. So we gave the can to Alê. She sprayed a generous portion all over herself, relieved at getting protection from mosquitoes and the hazards of dengue fever, chikungunya, and malaria. After 15 seconds or so, she stopped spraying, looked at the can, and said, “This isn’t DEET! It’s antiseptic spray!”

Leon: “Oh.” (with an impish grin)

Preston: “Wow. You smell like a hospital, now.” (also with an impish grin)

Preston: “Sir, this is antiseptic spray. Do you have any DEET or insect repellent?”

First Aid Dude: “No.”

By now, some of our other teammates came over and said they were going into the hotel (not ours, but the race started at one) for a light snack and maybe a drink of water as it was now determined that the race would start at 9:30. After we sat for a few minutes, we started asking “Where did you hear that the race starts at 9:30 and not 9:00? We want to be sure we don’t miss it.” The answer was something along the lines of “Some dude,” so two people (sorry, it’s a bit foggy given the full day’s events, but I think one was Markus) went out to get more information. They returned to inform us that the 10K would start around 11:00 and the 5K around 11:15. 7 of us gave up and returned to our hotel. Natasja, Mark, and Markus stayed and completed the 5K. As Westerners running a night time race in Jaipur, they stood out and found themselves in the local paper. So that’s the story of my first, and more than likely last, “marathon.”

Communication. Don’t underestimate the need for maniacal focus on clarity.


On Sunday we visited the City Palace. The Royal Family of Rajasthan still lives there, and of course that part of the palace is not available for viewing. Visiting the portion open to the public required an entry fee. Most (all?) of my teammates paid in cash, but I decided to preserve a few Rupees, so I used a credit card. The process for using a card apparently entails getting out of line and going through a door into the ticket booth. I don’t think they expected me to start asking other customers how I could help them, but I’m pretty sure I have a job any time I want. Photos below. Our visit at the palace ended with complementary tea, bottled water, and biscuits on the patio. Not a bad way to transition into Week 3! #ibmcsc #india32

The views expressed in this blog represent my own personal views and not necessarily those of IBM. That said, if IBM doesn’t like The Beatles, then IBM should really think about starting to like The Beatles.

The Workshop “Could Have Been Better,” and “Hello, Cow. Whatcha Thinkin’ ‘Bout? “

We’ve finished week 3 of our work, but I’m not here to talk about week 3, because I seem to be perpetually a week (now a wee bit more?) behind on my goings-on.

With those facts established, let’s talk about our work during week 2. Monday and Tuesday were holidays for our client, so Ale, John and I worked in the hotel. The hotel’s board room is reserved 24 x 7 for us. Most of our teammates on other projects make use of it intermittently throughout the week due to far off client locations, client holidays, or lack of meeting space at client sites. It’s a lot like working in the open Agile environment my regular team back in Raleigh moved into about 9 months ago. This results in simultaneous, unrelated conversations within different sub-teams, and I thrive on that chaos. I also use it as a launching pad for excessive and irritating interjection, but my team is patient (or at least pretends to be). Truth be told, we have all capitalized on some great cross team collaboration from this set up.

We used these two days to prepare for a workshop with some YPs who were able to make the trip into Jaipur from the field. The focus of the workshop was on a) mentoring, coaching, and recognition, and b) innovation.  [Melody (Mrs. Cleland), Casey, and Harper (daughters) will be amused at my habit of listing. “Well, family, let me address that by saying 2 things. No. Wait, 3 things. Well, 3 things with some sub-topics.”] We had 10 YPs in the workshop as many are in far flung corners of Rajasthan. The workshop went very well and resulted in another trip further out into the field that I’ll tell you about once I make it to the shenanigans of week 3. For purposes of gathering the YPs’ sentiments on the workshop, and even more so as another means of “taking their temperature,” we asked the YPs to fill out a post workshop survey, and, without getting into the questions, some sample responses include:

  • “So friendly that I was free to express my views.”
  • “THANK YOU!! 🙂 for coming from so far off places for us. Will always remember you guys : )”
  • “…we have never had anything like this here. Ever!”
  • “I have never been so frank with anyone in my tenure till now.”

I love these comments, but, for so many reasons, my absolute favorite was “Could have been better though.” I love that someone felt comfortable enough to tell us that. It confirms we had their trust, and in turn that they were open. And, yes, the workshop could have been better. I love striving for “better.” “Better” means never having to embrace boredom. “Better” disavows limits.

Beyond work, day to day living here in Jaipur provides opportunities to observe and think, two of my favorite things. At home in the US, sometimes when I pass through farmland and see cows (I know, technically “cattle,” but I prefer to call them “cows” regardless of gender) I wonder what they’re thinking about. In my own house, I observe our two dogs and wonder what they are thinking as well. I am particularly intrigued when one of them without warning decides to migrate from one part of the house to another. The little guy is obviously having proactive thoughts. His movement from one room to another without provocation from one of his human family members clearly has purpose conceived in his little noggin. What is it?

These ponderings are richer from driving around Jaipur and further out into other parts of the State of Rajasthan. Cows are everywhere. Dogs are, too. With the dogs, there is a heightened sense of purpose to their actions. It seems to me that the dogs and cows live essentially as people, along with pigs, monkeys, and pigeons. They don’t bother each other, people don’t bother them, and they (generally) don’t bother people (I’ve seen/heard a couple of dogs get a teensy bit aggressive – nothing too frightening, just testing the limits). The cows are the most fascinating. They stand, lie down, mosey about, etc. where they want. Period. You can see complete, confident, comfortable peace in their faces. They KNOW no one is going to mess with them. They are in the middle of the street on a 4 lane highway. Ain’t budgin’. Cars slow down and go around them. Sometimes on the sides of urban streets I’ve seen people hand feeding them. It’s pretty sweet to watch. So here’s a little ditty in honor of our friends, the cows, from Canada’s own Corb Lund. This is for you, Mark. May you always have cows around.

Before I close this entry with a few photos, a friend politely reminded me that I had not perhaps made clear the particulars of the IBM Corporate Service Corps. This recent op-ed published in the USA Today does a nice job of succinctly describing pro-bono consulting work and IBM CSC specifically.


#ibmcsc #india32

The views expressed in this blog represent my own personal views and not necessarily those of IBM. That said, if IBM doesn’t like The Beatles, then IBM should really think about starting to like The Beatles.