René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for the 'Globalization' Category

Global Russia Business Meeting 2011 in Cyprus

Traditions require pursuit. So when Frank Richter from Horasis is inviting to one of his legendary “Global Business Meetings”, the best option is simply to show up and receive a stimulating update on the state of the globalized world. This times it was the Global Russia Business Meeting 2011, last year I attended in Ljubljana, this year in happened to take place in Limassol (Cyprus).

As it was the first time to this island for me, I decided to come two days earlier and do a little bit of sightseeing, mainly into the surprisingly high mountains up to 1,900 meters …

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… as well as trying out the local cuisine which is famous for its “Meze”. Shared dishes which keep on coming in endless numbers and makes. Apparently, me including, every foreigner on his first time consistently commits the same mistake: Eating too much in the beginning and then facing complete paralysis when more and even more food is arriving to the table.

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The Island-Republic has been for decades an attractive destination for Russian tourists and investors alike: The single biggest source of Foreign Direct Investment (FTD) into Russia comes due to favourable holding- and taxation structures indeed from Cyprus.

Our hosts were enormously hospitable who made our stay a truly memorable experience. During the gala dinner on Sunday evening, the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Dimitris Christofias welcomed us …

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… after which inspiring and funny conversations with other attendees extended way after midnight.

On Monday, in fact the major day of the event, there were a couple of “all hands” plenary sessions with CEOs and ministers of state as well a plenty of parallel “break out-sessions” for a more intimate exchange. Like last year in Madrid for the India-Meeting, I had the honour to moderate a session about “Creating Innovation Capacity” with eight distinguished participants on the panel.

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In the nutshell, a couple of issues pertaining to Russia:

  • Assumptions from foreign businesspeople that Russia is operating like a Western country are strongly overstretched; one needs to know how to navigate the system with all its intricacies.
  • Political regulation changes frequently, and not always for the better.
  • Russia has strengths in R&D, yet deficits in devising products and services out of this, also with sub-standard abilities downstream when it comes to marketing and sales.
  • Russia’s strongest GDP-driver, natural resources, is both a salvation as it is a curse: It lacks the necessary “eco-systems” (benchmark: Silicon Valley) to allow other truly innovative sectors to emerge in order to contribute to a better diversification of the economy.
  • Russia possesses a healthy self-awareness about its strengths and weaknesses and has set up a variety of private and public initiatives to foster exchange to gain best practices.

This appears to be especially true after the financial crisis where the government is listening better than ever to entrepreneurs how to be serious about the necessary implementation of change.

Thanks Frank for once again putting a great program with inspiring people together, hope to see to see you soon at one of the subsequent events.

And on a personal note: Thanks to Davor, from Les Clefs d’Or– Concierge from LeMeridien in Limassol who helped me within 18 hours print my forgotten business cards and held some true insider tips for the best local dining in the area ready. “Hvala vam ljepa na vasoj pomoci, Davore”, – who originally hails from Bosnia and with whom I proudly conversed in our mother tongue Serbo-Croatian. That’s globalization at its best as it comes with the touch of home … :-)

New Venture: MillionMiles Media launches aMillionLives.com

For more than half a year I have been really busy creating something new. Today, I am proud to announce that I started a new venture MillonMiles Media Ltd. and we just went live with our really cool flagship site aMillionLives.com. And, yes, we have a Facebook Fanpage, too, where I like if you like ;-) In case you want to read our „official press release“, it’s here for download.

aMillionLives.com

Let me explain here on my blog in a bit more of a conversational tone what we are up to. We are global publishing network writing stuff that matters for our life, in particular the various lives of each of us. You might be familiar with Edward de Bono’s concept of the various hats we should put on during decision making. Similarly, on a broader perspective in one’s life somebody might be a teacher by profession, have a family with a lovely wife raising two kids. But there is more to life than the obvious on the surface: This human being might be an avid guitar player, enjoys going for a hike in the mountains and really love his food. That same person will find help, advise and entertainment for his various lives like in a magazine as a teacher, spouse, parent, musician, naturelover and foodie. Check out our overview of all the lives we are writing for.

aMillionLives.com

Here’s the deal with „global“ for our publishing network. I’ve been living and working in various continents for the last years where I dare to say that I have a fairly good understanding how to assemble a business that brings together the best pieces from each part of the world. Our company is incorporated in London (U.K.), a big chunk of our operation runs out of Bangalore (India) with an international team, the design for aMillionLives.com has been done in Poland, our writers hail from India, the Philippines. Our users as we know from our logfiles appreciate our content from all over the world, the U.S. running with 60 % at the forefront.

aMillionLives.com

Where does the name MillionMiles Media (MMM) come from? Two simple explanations: I was looking, no surprise, for something that sounds somehow cool and has „Media“ at the end. If you check out every freaking word on this earth in combination with „Media“ at the end, the domain is taken by some filthy domain-grabber. So extending the query to two prefix-words, landed me with MMM. Second, I liked it because last year with all my travelling I had crossed the mark of a million miles in my frequent flyer programme.

aMillionLives.com

Yep, that’s my news of the day. Happy about every feedback, good or bad, sympathetic or just pathetic. If you like our Fanpage on Facebook or moreover, place a link from your blog or site to aMillionLives.com, I’ll include you in my evening prayers – hands duly folded. Promised.

Lufthansa Customer Care – The Rift between West and East

The shifting economic power from west to east is a favourite theme sung by observers of globalization. The most often quoted reasons in favour of the east: demography (young) and growth (high). I would like to add from my own experience another critical one: attitude (great).

I’d like to illustrate this on a small example which happened yesterday during boarding with Lufthansa in Frankfurt. My purpose is both to use this public display as part of a complain which I have filed, but also as an illustration of a broader picture which I see emerging.

When I arrived to my boarding gate B23 for my flight LH 754 from Frankfurt to Bangalore yesterday on February 04th 2011 via direct transfer from Zurich, I requested at the boarding gate an upgrade from Economy to Business Class thanks to my abundance of miles in the Miles & More programme. The German tall guy behind the counter, let’s call him by his initials E.H. said „Yes, if you have miles.“ He went to his computer, went through the menu and replied: „Sorry, it doesn’t work, your ticket class doesn’t allow for an upgrade.“ End of the story – for him. I retorted that I didn’t believe this was accurate, as I had upgraded myself successfully on the TO-sector.

Lufthansa A321 (D-AIR)

I grabbed my mobile phone, called my always super-duper-customer-oriented Lufthansa-agent Vignesh Mohan in Bangalore who has been immaculately serving me in the last 3 years. He immediately picked up and explained to him the problem, he replied that he believed, too, the ticket was upgradable, but he would cross-check in the system and call me back.

Time was running out as I was the last passenger at the gate, the German guy and his female German colleague didn’t bother to even look at not to mention look after me once. Vignesh being Vignesh kept his promise, called me back after 2 minutes from India and confirmed: “The ticket is upgradable.”

What came next is really the point for my anger and the illustration of the different attitudes. I was polite and relaxed, went over to Mr. E.H. with my phone and said kind of: „I have Vignesh on the phone, your Lufthansa colleague from Bangalore, I suggest you both talk to each other in airline-lingo with all your ticket-codes to sort things out.“ He again wouldn’t even look at me, lest try to find any solution. Instead his female colleague stepped up to me and said in a super-annoyed way: “Well, it doesn’t work this way, we would have to call the ticket counter.” – Expectedly my response was: “And why don’t you do it?” She went on with: “Next time be a bit earlier with your upgrade request.” I turned back to E.H. and asked him why he wouldn’t talk to his colleague in India. Brief answer: “I in general don’t talk on a mobile phone.” Wow, that’s a rare mix of impressive and progressive.

Contrast that with Vignesh who was still on my ear and grasped the full sense of urgency of the situation and said: “René, give me a couple of minutes, I’ll sort things out from India.” I don’t know what Vignesh did, but magically after minutes the upgrade went through as smooth as silk. All fine, but I really got annoyed by this pathetic behaviour from the German Lufthansa team and announced that I would complain against him and asked for his name. He wouldn’t even have the balls to tell me, so I had to bent over and read it from his name plate. The grand final of the scene were his good bye-words: “But I just want to let you know that I am not the responsible load manager.” Bingo. This says it all: Zero attitude translates to zero responsibility which translates to zero civilized behaviour.

I do not even want to stretch the terms “customer orientation” too far and I don’t even intend to play my black card being a HON Circle member. This is just not a manner to behave. And being an entrepreneur I am safe to state into Lufthansa’s direction that you simply don’t want anybody like E.H. doing any customer-facing jobs. This was not his one time-failure, it’s an attitude problem and he’ll never get it.

Compare that to Vignesh’s attitude and action, and I am happy to conclude that we need more of the Vigneshs being allowed to play a much stronger role on the global economic stage and replace the E.H.s ideally yesterday. And please nobody tell me that this was – prominent German term – “unsozial”, i.e. not in line with social considerations.

Picture Source: Flickr.com / Andres Rueda

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

Horasis and its founder Frank-Jürgen Richter are really coming to ever new heights with its format of “Global X Business Meeting”. Take “X” as a placeholder for China, India, Russia and soon Arab, too. The concept is brilliant: Create a platform for political and economic leaders for a specific country, let them fly out of their cocoon for 2 days in a completely different continent and blend them with political and economic leaders from the host country. For the recent Global Russia Business Meeting that host country was Slovenia (in Ljubljana), last for last year’s Global India Business Meeting it was Germany (Munich) and for this year it was Spain in its magnificent capital of Madrid. (All pictures of the event here on this set.)

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

This year’s top participants from India were the Union Minister of Commerce, Anand Sharma, who spoke about his country’s resilience to weather the storm of the global economic crisis, aspiring to a double digit GDP-growth and acknowledging the requirement build stronger ties to Europe. As a reference to his hosts Mr. Sharma mentioned in particular Spain whose trade volume with India ranks only 43.

Anand Sharma, India Minister of Commerce

From the Spanish side, the Crown Prince Felipe gave himself the honour to speak. As someone who has rather reservations to monarchy, I was honestly surprised not to see some smug royal retard, but a highly educated, soft-spoken and down-to-earth guy who is very well able to play his constitutional and social role in such a setting very well.

Felipe, Prince of Asturias, Spanish Crown Prince

I had the pleasure to moderate panel on a topic which is personally very dear to me: Innovation. In particular “Driving the Future: India’s Technology Pioneers – India’s IT and other technology firms are emerging as global players in their own right. What areas are they pioneering in and how do they compete in world markets?” The participants had a lot to share from their experience:

  • Dinesh Dhamija, former Founder and CEO of ebookers.com, now Founder and Chairman, Copper Beech Group, United Kingdom
  • Sachin Dev Duggal, Chairman, Nivio, India
  • Naeem Ghauri, Co-Founder, NetSol Technologies, Pakistan & United Kingdom
  • Clas Neumann, President, SAP Labs India, Germany
  • Jeff Heenan Jalil, Head – Wipro Technologies, Europe, Wipro, India
  • Glenn Proellochs, Chief Executive Officer, Travelpaper.com, Switzerland
  • Sudhir Sethi, Chairman, IDG Ventures India Advisors India
  • Sudhakar Shenoy, Chairman, IMC, USA

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

This format of a so called “board room dialogue” in an intimate setting allows for a true conversation among the panellists where the “audience” blends seamlessly in. Three main conclusions on innovation that I’d to summarize here:

  • IT-Innovation in India has multiple dimensions. It’s not just about the classic Western understanding of filing a patent for some say cutting edge laser-thing. It’s often process innovation: Just think of the 1 million resumés (!) that Infosys is getting every year to fill 12,000 positions, you need to handle that somehow. Or business innovation with a particular focus on the price point, see for example the world-class rate of 0.5 US-Cent per minute on Indian mobile operators.

  • Bigger organisations like SAP or Wipro can only innovate of their culture embodies constant change whereby their organizational frameworks act like a stable meta-layer for innovation.

  • India is not good at everything, should and often does recognize both its strengths and weaknesses. For instance anything around User Interface can be done with a company in the Silicon Valley much better. The conclusion here: In times where you can assemble easily global sourcing chains, also from the Indian perspective applies: Do what you can do best and outsource the rest :-)

After all the inspiring discussions over the day, we headed off for a cocktail reception to the beautiful Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez where Mr. Peacock was greeting us with his evergreen mating-show.

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

Last but not least, thanks a lot to Frank for once again putting such an awesome Horasis-event together.

Global India Business Meeting 2010 in Madrid

Global Russia Business Meeting: Stronger Integration

It’s been the second event from Horasis (“The Global Visions Company”) that I attended, this time the Global Russia Business Meeting in Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana. As usual, the organizer Frank-Jürgen Richter was able to bring an amazing high-calibre crowd together. This platform provided a perfect global context in which Russia’s opportunities and challenges could appropriately be discussed.

Besides, me being half-Croatian, I passed through the ring-road of Ljubljana many times, but never found the time to have a look at the City itself. So this event gave me a good opportunity to make up for it and found the home-town of 280,000 inhabitants picturesque and lovely, exuding still some charm of the former Austrian K&K-monarchy from a time when it carried the name “Laibach”. (All the pictures here on this Flick-set.)

Walk through Ljubljana

The event itself began with a reception, a “virtual ribbon cutting” (there was none :-) …

Global Russia Business Meeting: Inauguration

… , followed by a gala-dinner in the Union Hotel where among others the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Borut Pahur, spoke about Slovenia’s current challenges in the crisis, it’s firm integration in the European Union (yes, including its financial help for Greece, too) and naturally its relationship with Russia.

Global Russia Business Meeting: Prime Minister Borut Pahor

The conference itself was held the next day in Brdo Casle near Kranj which boasts the historic memories of the first encounter between then US-president George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in 2001.

Global Russia Business Meeting: Conference

The day started with a welcome address by the Slovenia Head of State, Danilo Türk, a former law professor and moreover accomplished top-diplomat which one could easily tell by his intelligent and rhetorically polished 20-minutes speech in English without the help of a single piece of paper.

Global Russia Business Meeting: Slovenian President Dr Danilo Türk

The president set the stage for the issues which we discussed throughout the day:

  • Russia has has come out of the crisis significantly better than the EU, with growth rates again in the range of 5 % compared to some 3 % in the Euro-zone.
  • Europe and Russia should actively strive for a closer integration on the levels:
    • Free trade: Russia is still to join the Word Trade Organization (WTO), yet easier flow of goods should be facilitated
    • Security: Building a joint defense-architecture both for nuclear and conventional weapons
    • Visa: Easing the mutual access to visa or even letting go with the visa-regime altogether and deal with misuse on a robust case-by-case basis
  • Russia’s strength being the energy-supplier for the rest of Europe is also its curse as the country’s welfare depends too much on the oil-price, whereas its economy lacks diversification into other sectors.
  • The country is sitting on a demographic bomb with an even faster falling population that in western Europe. The programme for a women to receive EUR 8,000 from the state for the second child is not really bearing fruit.
  • Lack of talent seems to be the biggest issue for companies. High unemployment, especially among young people, on the other hand is calling for a more effective education system which is supposed to teach modern management methods. So far corporate governance overall is stuck in archaic-hierarchic command & control-structures.
  • Bureaucracy and extremely rigid labour laws are severe impediments for much needed flexibility.
  • Summary: In spite of all the challenges, Europe and Russia should move closer together. Given the current state of the EU this is no longer an act of mercy. Rather, Europe should understand that it might even need Russia more than Russia needs Europe.

I was invited to speak on a panel about “Which strategies work best when trying to
break into foreign markets” and was sort of taking the perspective of the “I” in BRIC – which stands for the block of emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

So far Russia’s foreign direct investment (FDI) has understandably been directed more towards its own strategic industries in energy and natural resources, predominantly Europe. India as a target for e.g. company acquisitions hasn’t been to much on the radar. But if Russia takes its quest for more diversification seriously, India would definitely become an opportunity. Either as an attractive market for consumers which has to be addressed in quite a segmented way or of part of an integrated global process chain capitalizing on its vast talent pool at relatively low cost.

With plenty of remarks about the current state of the world economy the mood was almost something of fatalistic. “After the banking crisis we believed to be out of the worst; but now we have Greece and the ash-spitting volcano. Things have somehow become unpredictable”, said Cvetka Selšek, Chief Executive Officer from SKB (Slovenia). Or from another participant: “Everybody in the room listen: Be afraid of China. They know how to fix problems.” Or: “The western countries are the debtors, whereas the BRIC-countries are the creditors.” So much for the new world order.

My view of the current crisis of the Euro, the European Union as an institution and the highly indebted west in general is relatively sober. We should finally leave our old notions behind that every investment in Europe or the U.S. is a AAA-gold-nugget whereas the same into an emerging markets is systematically exposed to higher risk. Until recently I would have seconded this little insight: We are living in a world with lots of capital and no opportunities (west) and no capital and plenty of opportunities (emerging markets). However, looking at the growth dynamics of BRIC, today it’s more: Those combine capital with opportunities.

The west, by contrast, has successfully managed to get stuck in the worst intersection of this matrix.

Amazing India – Impressions from the Airports

Even after 6 years of living in India, the subcontinent is full of surprises every day. Just one week of being here, countless of heartwarming, witty and inspiring stories. Starting in the here and now: I am sitting on a “laptop station” after security of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi and blogging this post away. Really amazing where India has gotten with such a world class airport, working stations including free high-speed wireless internet (try to get that on a German airport).

Delhi Airport

It’s been quite a busy travelling week, so last Friday I have been at Cochin Airport where this instance caught my eye. In contrast to western economics where capital EXCHANGES labour for the sake of saving cost, the success formula in India seems to be capital PLUS labour.

Machine & Man at Kochin Airport

In a congenial combination of man & machine the concept works like this: A customer steps forward to the apparatus and selects an item. The guy in the yellow T-Shirts takes his money and shovels it into the machine, the magazine drops down, the guy picks it up and hand it to the customer. Variation B: For bigger items, that’s even more hilarious, the guy collects the money, opens the door, grabs the article and hands it out. So basically as a customer you get the feeling that modern technology is still grounded by good old human service.

Some Indian ads are just involuntarily funny, I really wonder what rode the heavily metrosexual art director of coming up with this copy. It’s supposed to promote the speed of transfer as well breadth of shopping opportunities at Bangalore Airport.

Bangalore Airport Advertisement

Well, if I was that girl, I also wished that rather the teddybear be my father and not that guy with the gay moustache with the glossy lipstick beneath LOL

Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya: Mission Accomplished

After two months of fine-tuning and observation a fresh update: Things are advancing well in Vatsalya, the computers are in use, technology is working and the girls are happy :-) Moreover, from April onwards the training will be enhanced to five times a week by two teachers so that our joint efforts will reap the maximum benefit. These teachers will be paid for long-term by another sponsor, Larsen & Toubro, which Vatsalya was able to attract. Therefore I feel safe to say that by now we can declare the project for the goals we have defined successfully accomplished.

As mentioned in the last update from January, we invested EUR 220 into a new roof for the school patio which has been built and is giving shade to the little children during their school hours from the almost perpendicular sun of South India. Here is the official “Thank You-letter” from the organization:

Recognition Letter Vatsalya Roof

Needless to say that I will regularly come by to Vatsalya and assist wherever I can. Thank you once again for your generous support so that we we were jointly able to make this worthwhile project happen.

Visit to Parikrma Foundation in Bangalore

After Shukla Bose’s inspiring talk at TED India in Novemer 2009, I finally managed today to follow her kind invitation to visit one of the four schools which she has set up in the last six years after the inception of Parikrma Foundation. Check out the website, it’s amazingly well executed, like everything else I have seen today at the tour of  the “Adobe Parikrma Centre For Learning”. (Here is the entire picture set.)

Parikrma Foundation Bangalore: Complex

Given the top-notch organizational standard, one can tell that Shukla has spent a major part of her life in corporate life before she decided to do something that makes a true difference to others. Hence, the place is an amazing mix of high-quality education and dedication of its mostly volunteers as well as salaried full-time teachers. The right attitude for all involved seems of utmost importance for the organization.

Parikrma Foundation: Classroom

“You can’t buy passion”, explains Shukla, and leads by example how focussed and loving she treats each and every of the children, ask them questions, answers the children’s questions back, encourages critical reasoning, a healthy portion of scepticism, gives them a hug and sometimes tender kiss on the cheek.

Parikrma Foundation: Shukla Bose & Rene Seifert

Most importantly, the children feel welcome at this place and encouraged to blossom. As normal as it sounds, it is not. These children have all one thing in common: They hail from very poor families, with an average income of Rs. 800/- (~ EUR 13) per month, and would without Parikrma at best see a school from the outside.

I really like the approach Shukla and her team are taking to their programme: Instead of describing problems and design solutions, they start from a desirable result: Enable children from an underprivileged background to attend college and work their way backwards to overcoming the roadblocks to the objective.

Besides an amazing curriculum which for example is able to teach children from ground zero English in three months, it includes most importantly the family background of the kids as well. It means integrating the parents into the process to convince them of the long term benefit of a good education (lower drop-out rates) to sending alcoholic fathers to therapies and have them afterwards build and run kitchens which feed all the children during school-hours.

Parikrma Foundation: Children at Sports

After my great experience with our charity-project “Wipro Netbooks for Vatsalya” today’s visit was an eye-opener how something based on good intentions can scale into a significant changer of society like Parikrma. Shukla has in my impression done an amazing job in building a platform where new ideas and improvements are constantly absorbed, a platform which is open to the work of volunteers, some of them – which made it really sympathetic to me – guys with long hair and girls with tattoos (rather a rarity in India). These would be assigned to work in well crafted “modules”. Those can range from providing “slower” pupils a bit of teaching-tailwind within a programme of a few months to just have one educational lesson of 90 minutes on a relevant subject.

Parikrma Foundation: Classroom

If you are interested in Parikrma, my fullest endorsement to donate or help. Here is how it works:

  • Sponsoring one child per year including all expenses like books,  school-uniform, teachers’ salary to the partial rent: $500 per year
  • Sponsoring a whole class where the donor will receive regular reports on the children’s progress: $15,000 per year (30 children with $500 each)
  • Needless to mention, any amount of money is welcome.
  • Volunteering, as described above, also with people from abroad is encouraged.

For all this, ideally visit Parikrma’s website where there is more information and even the possibility to donate online.

Thanks to Shukla and her team, keep up the amazing work and let’s keep in touch. I am sure there is something where we can work together in the future.

Booming: (Online)-Coupons in the Crisis

Came across this data-rich article on CNN Money which points at an increase of coupon distribution and usage in the United States. Interestingly, the surge is being explained with the economic crisis where savvy consumers are looking for a deal wherever they can get one.

Overall, the volume of aggregated coupon savings amounts to $600 millions more in the first 9 months of 2009 compared to the same period the year before, or in percent, a 30 % up. The merchants from their end seem to have understood luring new customers to their shops by increasing the distribution of such coupons by 41 %. More often than not, the economics of a such a voucher don’t pay off in the first place with zero or even a negative margin. However, if relationship building is done right, the customer lifetime value will allow for profitable amortization.

Not surprising, more and more of the coupon business is moving online, with Redplum being such a major aggregator. The convenience-factor for both the merchant and the customer is as unmatched as in all the other areas the internet has disrupted. In Germany, there are equally services springing up in the coupon space like www.paperball.de/gutscheine. The idea is simply explained: Present an overview of coupons of current vouchers, explain their benefit and guide the customer over to the merchant. Another example for such a service is blogmeier.de with “blog” meaning “blog” also in German language by now, whilst “Meier” being a very popular last name (like “Smith” in English :-)

My impression is that coupons are here to stay and that we will see more of them, especially at the crossroad of mobile, location awareness and your social network.

TED India: First Impressions from Mysore

It’s been some 6 hours that I arrived at Infosys’ Campus in Mysore, the venue for the TED India conference. The campus is out of this world, when going through the gate “you are leaving the Indian sector” and it appears as neat as Disney World – although the Infosysians roaming around are way smarter ;-)

Obviously, I am no conference newbie. But every event has its own culture and my experience has been to look and watch in the first place, keep a bit of a low profile to understand the dos and don’ts and then fully immersing into the action. So far my first impression has been fantastic. You just start a conversation with anybody on where they come from, what they do or what interests them. What is a good thing – and I hate anything else – that the conversations are genuinely personal and nobody tries to “sell” himself, lest any product or service.

I guess one little anecdote illustrates my point quite well: When I took the bus back from the opening party to the campus, there was a slim Indian gentleman sitting there. I asked politely if the chair was vacant, he confirmed politely and we introduced each other by name: “Rama – René”. He made an extremely humble, maybe even slightly shy impression to me, and we started to talk in a real curious two-way conversation. After 3 minutes or so it turned out that this gentleman was Vilayanur Ramachandran, one of the leading neuroscientists of the world. He told me about his studies of the human brain with his approach to learn from deviant behaviour in a systematic way about the brain function and arrive to general conclusions for the ‘normal’ case. Rama held a talk today in the pre-conference programme; and here he is in a TED-talk of 2007.

We came then to some older studies of his where he looked at the function of humour which he explained in an amazing way of cultural evolution. But then we didn’t stay too long too theoretical and started to exchange hilarious jokes. One of them which the Professor told me is the sort of jokes I usually tell and I had to promise not spread it by giving “credit” to him. Promised.

As I mentioned Twitter, Rama said that he was registered, but didn’t understand if he had to admit people who follow him, what was public and what not. This was of course my little moment of glory where I could share my experience with the microblogging service and explain all open points. So my initial take: TED is predominantly about good, mutual conversations where a pinch of humour doesn’t do any harm either.

An amazing first evening, and I am really really looking forward to tomorrow, with Day 1 of the conference program. By the way, the entire Day 1 will be broadcast live online.

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