Inspiration through Impact


The main thing is to Get out of the Building – Validate!
May 31, 2014, 5:42 AM
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In the last few weeks I have had the chance to consolidate some of the tools I have seen to initiate projects in the area of management consulting and technology. And the reality is, that although the Philosophy behind them and the lingo in front of them is quite not the same (the industries although very different are not opposing – for all of them you need a large amount of post it notes) the main principles of these tools are basicly the same:

1. Understand the problem/need that you are to solve for your client/customer
2. Structure your thoughts around the problem and see them from every angle trying not to miss anything.
3. Come up with an hypothesis to solve the problem or need that is addressed
4. Test it and either implement or go back to your sketching board.

In any case, thes use of so many of these tools in the last week have made me pick a current favourite, which interestingly enough is not one of the latest tools that the cool kids shared with me recently. It’s something a bit older that even if it still looks a little casual for corporate use, I think it can get a project ahead just because well… it’s very slick and smart. Yes, I am talking about the Lean startup Machine’s Validation Board, and here she is… Ta-ta!

According to Grace Ng, the VP of Design at LSM, the project’s goal was to “help entrepreneurs all over the world get out of the building and talk to customers.” Ng explains that “so many products fail because they aren’t solving a problem that customers care enough about.” That right there, understanding consumer need, is the difference between helping people with a useful product and a redundant flop.

As you’d expect, the Validation Board essentialy helps startups implement Lean Startup practices into their everyday processes. It’s not an instant ticket to success, but it’ll help entrepreneurs validate their best ideas and if you ask me, you can use it also for a Turnover project as long as you keep the EBIT impact in focus.

So how do you go about using it?

1. Start with hypotheses about your problem and customers. – A common mistake is starting with a solution. But solutions are worthless if the problem isn’t a real problem. .As for your customers, choose a “segment” rather than a demographic: not travelers ages 20-30, but maybe people who travel to gain cultural understanding. That allows you to craft a specific solution for a similar group, rather than a diverse group of people who happen to be the same age or gender.

2. List core assumptions about the problem. – For example, list why it’s a problem. If you think tourists have a problem finding local places to visit, is it because they don’t speak the language? Because other websites lead them to tourist traps? Or everything’s too expensive? Depending on the answer, the ultimate solution will be different.

3. Test your riskiest assumption. -  For example, you might riskily assume that people want to see non-tourist traps. So “get out of the building,” hit the streets, and start offering free tours. Do people get excited about your neighborhood cafe, or are they clamoring for the Coit Tower? Ask them why they’re willing to follow you around. At one Lean Startup Machine workshop, a team actually went out and collected DNA samples, defying protestations by the judges that people would keep their saliva to themselves.

In the tech context, the key here is not building a product yet; you’re just testing; or in the management consulting context, don’t start with your PNL just yet. People really overestimate, ‘- Oh, I need to build it, I need a team. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to learn this without building it.- And it’s just wrong. It’s not true, Both consultants with an MBA and top developers are expensive people and will rarely be willing to work for free or long into the night for an idea that’s not already thought through.

For those that really need to see “it”, my good friend @cjcheshire is turning into one of the voices setting the tone around prototyping. Follow him to see how codeless magic can happen.

4. Look for a “minimum success criterion.” - This is the lowest possible response that will validate your assumption. For example, for the impromptu tour guide, it might be that 10 percent of people are willing and happy to take your quirky tour. Or, even better, that 10 percent of people are willing to give up something, like an email address for future updates. If your assumption is validated, test the next riskiest assumption; if it’s invalidated, your problem hypothesis is wrong, so come up with a new one. And so on.

The validation board may not be a magic bullet – it can’t come up with problems and solutions for you – but it can save you lots of wasted time and money. Oh… and it is so pretty and for free here.



Social is the past… MOOC’s are the future
May 29, 2014, 8:53 PM
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While recruiters continue to gain skills in search techniques, candidates are elusive and wary of getting unsolicited emails, InMails, and efforts to get them engaged with your firm on Facebook or LinkedIn. Anyone can understand that.

Recruiters, especially not corporate recruiters that have to rely more heavily on their network’s growth potential should also be much smarter about how they find and engage with candidates. A really good candidate has no need for trivial engagement with you and knows that he or she can easily find another position.

The best recruiters use a targeted strategy to identify which candidates are most likely to not only have the skills their organization needs, but which ones are staying current in their field, are learning new skills, and which ones are motivated to work hard.

Younger candidates are attracted to firms that offer access to learning opportunities and older candidates are anxious to gain current, relevant skills.

There may be no better way to do this than to look in-depth at what MOOCs have to offer.

MOOCs (Massive, Open Online Courses) have been growing in popularity for some time. These are college-level courses that are mostly free, and enrollment is quick and easy. They are offered by top schools such as MIT, Stanford, and Harvard (personally have taken on several of them and I am very satisfied)  as well as by a number of firms that provide their own courses, developed by experts. Enrollments in MOOCs have soared over the past few years and as of last October the largest provider, Coursera, had enrolled five million, and edX, a partnership between Harvard, Berkeley, and MIT, had more than 1.3 million.

Sourcing With MOOCs

One MOOC provider, Udacity, also offers a program where recruiters can access student resumes. Firms like Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have paid Udacity and Coursera to match them with high-performing students.

Most of the courses have online forums where students engage in conversation. A corporate recruiter can use these as a way meet candidates and assess their skills. Some of these participants will be recent grads with little experience but who are fast, motivated learners. If you can get your hiring managers to take part, they might be attracted to one or more of them.

Screening With MOOCs

While completion rates are low, those who do finish a course are often the most motivated and have demonstrated their ability to stick with a task to completion.

A number of recruiters are starting to consider candidates who have completed a MOOC. Anyone who has completed a course, or a series of courses, most likely has the same knowledge as someone who attended the brick-and-mortar version. Some of these courses are better taught online than in a classroom because they encourage interactive discussions, require homework, and get students engaged in collaborative projects. A participant’s ability to collaborate and their contribution to the discussions can provide insights into their eventual work habits.

Engaging Candidates With MOOCs

You might want to think about going one step further and consider partnering with your training or development function to develop your own course. This would not only meet the desires of Gen Y to gain new skills, but would also provide an authentic way to engage with potential candidates.

Sites like UdemyMoodle, Udacity, and others allow organizations to create their own private courses. These can attract potential candidates and provide a platform for engagement that is authentic and useful to the candidate and your firm. If you can involve hiring managers, as well as fellow employees, you will have one more high-quality source of candidates.

Or, you can choose to sponsor a course offered by a university and use it as a way to find new candidates as well as to learn about the capabilities of potential candidates. AT&T and other organizations are already sponsoring courses for their own employees using MOOCs. There is no reason this could not be expanded to include potential employees.

A staffing firm for the creative industry, Aquent, has already started offering free classes using MOOCs to attract candidates and develop their skills before placing them. This has increased the supply of candidates, ensures quality, and is a selling point to hiring managers.

Improve Retention With MOOCs

Gen Y in particular expects that the firm they work for will provide them with development, learning opportunities, and mentors. One of the reasons often given for leaving a job is lack of opportunity and lack of development. Formal training is expensive and small startups do not have the cash or time to invest in training or a staff to provide it. MOOCs can provide a cost effective (usually free) way to encourage engagement and retain good employees.

Huge Variety

If you do not have the capacity to build your own courses, there are a growing number available. A website called MOOC-list lists of all the courses now offered on MOOCs.

The MOOCs revolution is here and 2014 will be a year when those who pioneer how to use them for recruitment will be able to reap benefits for many years to come. Take some time and learn more about them, enroll in a course, and get a hiring manager involved.



Assessment Center Galore
May 8, 2014, 9:19 AM
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A significant number of companies worldwide use some form of assessment centre methodology to evaluate candidates for recruitment, development and promotion – and most seem satisfied with the process. But is that confidence misplaced? Recent studies suggest it may be.

 

First, a definition: An assessment centre is a methodology (not a location) in which participants are run through a variety of job-related exercises while trained assessors evaluate their behaviors.  Created at Harvard, implemented by German intelligence in WWI, refined by the British and Americans in WWII, and legitimized for business by IBM in the 1950s, the assessment centre has long been held in high regard by HR professionals as an unbiased way to predict candidates’ future performance.

 

The methodology has served well for many years. Studies between 1966 and 2007 showed an incremental validity of about .40 over other methods such as cognitive ability tests, personality assessments, and interviews. This means that about 20% of job performance could be explained by results from the assessment center.  Having such a strategic window into the future for organizations has been a real advantage for their talent management processes.

 

But a recent meta-analysis has found the validity of assessment centers to have fallen to about .27, which ranks below the predictive value of other, less sophisticated methods.  This is clearly a concern as organizations can easily spend upwards of 6,000 USD per participant and more on these types of interventions.

 

What is contributing to this decline?  There appear to be a number of factors at work:

 

  • Pressure to reduce costs – While organizations recognize and have benefited from the assessment centre approach and methodology, there is significant pressure to find ways to be more efficient and cost effective in their recruiting practices.  This has led to corner cutting and a disregard for best practices.  There has been an alarming trend in the use of “assembly line” or “off the shelf” approaches that have commoditized this valuable process.
  • Unqualified assessors – More and more professionals claim to offer this type of service without having the proper credentials. And when companies try to take the service in-house, most lack the appropriate training and resources (not to mention, time) to do the job properly.
  • Irrelevant competency frameworks – Talent competency models need to be refreshed. Many organizations are working off of frameworks that have been around for three or more years or they are electing to use off-the-shelf models. Either way, they need to assess whether or not the capabilities in these models are reflective of what success looks like in their organizations today and where the organization is moving strategically.
  • Outdated delivery modes – Traditional methods of administering the evaluations simply do not align to the virtual, real-time nature of today’s professional jobs. Many organizations still employ a “paper/pencil” approach where participants are handed instructions for an exercise or asked to respond to a series of paper memos. Such an approach damages the relevance of the experience from a candidate standpoint.

 

Increasingly I see the impact of these factors in failed assessment programs and with participants who have had bad experiences and are skeptical whether they will get valuable insights from another assessment. How can organizations refresh their assessment center methodology to create a more realistic experience for candidates and gain relevant insights for their leadership development efforts? Time for a Fresh Approach.

 

In order to confront these challenges head on, I believe the first step is the integration of technology. Technology has become integral to today’s world of work and it is important that the setup of assessment centers capitalize on the latest advancements to create a more realistic experience for candidates.  Properly applied, technology provides:

 

  • Distributed delivery and scalability to help reduce costs
  • Standardization and control to solve quality issues
  • Contemporary diagnostic tools to regain relevance

 

Technology-enabled assessment center tools could provide a much more realistic experience – one that “feels right” to participants since it incorporates the everyday digital tools that businesses run on, such as computers, email systems, and so on.  The ultimate goal of an assessment center should be to mirror a “day in the life” of the target role from the participant’s perspective.

 

Another important step is to conduct a proper job analysis to define the key success factors to be measured during the assessment center.  Simply electing to go with an off-the-shelf assessment or standardized benchmark is a recipe for irrelevant results.  To reliably predict something as complex as human behavior it is imperative to thoroughly analyze what “success looks like” in the target role within the organization.  High performance is organizationally specific … meaning that the success criteria for a position in one organization may be very different from the same position in another company (in my career the consultants joining a top consulting firm, would miserably fail to join another top consulting firm, even in similar functional expertise).  This seems to be the fundamental issue with leveraging a standardized benchmark for talent assessment.

 

For an organization get the most from its investment in assessment center methodology, consider the following:

 

  • Ensure your benchmark for success is relevant and up to date by doing a thorough job analysis on the target role
  • Use exercises that reflect today’s world of work and have the proper integration of technology and virtual business challenges
  • Deploy tracking mechanisms that allow you to correlate the results of the assessment with on-the-job performance and continually improve the process over time (Definitely looking forward to experiment on this one)

 

If you decide to engage an assessment provider, determine how they are able to ensure the proper discipline is applied in all steps of the assessment process from job analysis and success profiling, to administration and evaluation, through to feedback and coaching. Ask yourself: is the process truly being fitted for my organization?  This is critical for effective decision-making and impactful results for the individual and the organization.  Taking a shortcut on any of these key steps will impact the quality and validity of the outcome.

 

I believe that, fundamentally, the assessment center methodology is still sound and can be a powerful predictor of future performance. But it requires an approach that is customized to your organization’s competencies and culture … uses technology to drive relevance, scalability, and standardization … and is guided by experienced assessment professionals to yield the best results.

 

Is your organization using assessment center methodology? What has been your experience? How are you handling the challenges?



Winning Candidate Experience
February 19, 2014, 3:11 PM
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The hiring process is stressful for both sides. The job seeker is putting their talents and career future on the line, which is a vulnerable place to be. The organization is investing considerable resources in hopes of finding a star in the making. This is important stuff.

And yet far too many organizations make a mess out of the candidate experience in the recruiting process. This is astonishing, and just plain self-destructive; In the field of hyper-selective organizations the pool of candidates is ever so small and bad word to mouth can be…it.

Get this: The Talent Board, which runs the Candidate Experience Awards surveyed over 45,000 job applicants about their experience. Of those who had a positive experience, 61 percent would actively encourage colleagues to apply to the organization; 27 percent of those who had a negative experience would actively discourage colleagues from applying. In addition, almost 40 percent of the positives would buy more of the goods or services the company sells, even if they weren’t ultimately hired; 30 percent of the negatives would buy less goods or services. Finally 50 percent of positives share their positive experience; 32 percent of negatives broadcast their bad news.

In other words, a good candidate experience is brilliant marketing for an organization; a bad one is a continuous stain in the reputation of your brand for people that could be interested to join your organization. Devastating as that is, this fact is even worse: a bad hiring experience may cause the right applicant to turn down the job. Top talent has no desire to work in a disrespectful organization with leaders who simply don’t care about the recruiting process. Today people want to feel WANTED, APPRECIATED; it is sort of like dating.

Savvy organizations turn HR into a powerhouse marketing and recruiting tool. I guess as a continuation of my post “User in the middle… He is King Bunny” Here are 5 steps you can take to follow their lead:

1)     Walk in the job seeker’s shoes. We’ve all been job seekers at some point in our careers. As you design or improve your hiring process, keep the candidate experience on your eyesight at all times. Yes, this is about fulfilling your organization’s needs, but the more you understand and design the process from the applicant’s point of view, the more successful you will be. Role playing can be invaluable here. Have a team member play an applicant as you design each step of your process. My current employer, DP DHL Inhouse Consulting, is absolutely brilliant at this one.

2)    Communicate. Remember that disgraceful statistic: over 70 percent of online applicants never even get a form reply. It violates the rules of common human courtesy and smart communication.

You must explain every step of the hiring process to an applicant. Always meet the deadlines and markers you have established. If for some unforeseeable reason, you’re unable to, communicate that swiftly and directly to the applicant. Stay transparent and honest all the way through. My manager, Allison Watson, at the time I worked for Google sets the bar high on this one. She was swift and uncompromising, therefore successful in an organization that will sample a good portion of applicants every quarter to measure their recruiters’ success.

3)   Bring employees in the process. Jobs don’t exist in a vacuum. You want to hire people who are going to mesh with your culture. The best way to ensure this is to seek employee input in designing and implementing your hiring. A fresh pair of eyes can sometimes provide just the insight you’re seeking. And consider having promising candidates meet with their possible future teammates to gauge workplace culture fit. Too many HR departments want to guard their culture from the world. That’s a mistake. Moliere once said: “I take my good where I find it.” He’s one smart guy. I guess the best case I have seen in this regard are ThoughtWorks and their use of pair interviewing throughout their complete set of applied interviews, with the added bonus of reduction of interviewer bias.

4)    Personalize the recruiting process. You’ve heard me say it again and again: when it comes organiyations and their people, one size fits no one. You want a hiring process that has built-in flexibility, not rigid rules. Some of the best talent is idiosyncratic, eccentric and maybe even a bit weird (exhibit A: Steve Jobs). The last thing you want is a process that eliminates stellar talent for bureaucratic reasons. Yes, a college degree from an elite is nice, but is it really the key determinant of an applicant’s future performance? I don’t think so. And in this parameter I have to give the thumbs up to ThoughtWorks again.

5)     Seek honest feedback. Your hiring process should be ever-evolving. Social media has handed HR powerful new tools that impact every step of the process. Actively seek feedback from candidates, both those you hire and those you don’t. Listen and respond, just keep tweaking. A static hiring process will soon turn stale. Think of feedback as a dialogue, a lesson, and an inspiration. For this one I don’t know any organization that has learned to do this swiftly rather than individuals and I have seen no one as fierce in combining the power of social media and physical events as Ms. Amy Lynch (who I am very sure is to become a recruiting guru one of these days and single handedly made herself a local celebrity in Manchester, UK in a few months).

Hiring lies at the very heart of HR and Leadership. When candidates are hired after a positive experience, they hit the ground running, their commitment to your organization having been nurtured and strengthened during every step of the process. When candidates aren’t hired, they walk away feeling respected and appreciated, and are far more likely to recommend other talent look into your organization. This is world-class HR. And you can make it happen!



Alignment through Dialogue
February 18, 2014, 1:35 PM
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When it comes to building alignment around your vision, dialogue plays a key role. Through dialogue, a leader establishes a two-way conversation, in contrast to the one-way communication needed for clarity, which I discussed in a previous. It involves suspending judgment and stretching to connect with the other person’s point of view. This requires openness and active listening.  Skilled leaders use dialogue as an opportunity to give people a voice. By engaging the group and making others part of the conversation, you open the door to shared ownership and accountability. In other words, you gain buy-in and begin to build engagement.

I read of several examples and practices in which dialogue changed history (highly recommended!) in William Isaacs’ book Dialogue. This book (I dare to say) is, at least in a business and decision making context an interesting predecessor to the Senge saga.

Going at the moment through an extreme change in leadership paradigm, I couldn’t help but gathering some thoughts and giving a continuation to the post: Clarity.

Dialogue is an art, but it’s also a skill that can be developed by practicing two key behaviors:exchanging perspectives and being receptive.

We want the people we lead to get it—to share our vision, our plan, our urgency, our passion. But it’s just as important for people to know that we get them. When people feel understood, they can open up more about what’s really bothering them. If you can get them talking, and if you listen to what they are saying, you’ll be able to address issues, answer questions, and share insights. It’s all about exchanging perspectives.

Exchanging perspectives can sound like hard work and it can be too. A bit too much of it will drive you to slow decision making which can lead an inability to scale up processes and has set many promising enterprises on a path from stagnation to extinction. But consider this: If you ask those around you about the leaders they enjoy working with most they are those who consistently rose to the top were those while genuinely listening to other people and taking others’ input and ideas seriously. I have heard of great practices and resources (especially in Europe) to improve in this area and I would be happy to share if asked.

Going through this path of growth myself, there are a couple of things I am trying out for creating dialogue by exchanging perspectives:

  • Create an open and relaxed environment where people feel comfortable asking questions and sharing perspectives.
  • Have one-on-one conversations with people.
  • Practice reflective listening.

The other best-practice behavior used by leaders to create dialogue is being receptive. Being receptive is a bit more straightforward than exchanging perspectives. It’s not so much about the process of having the conversation or even the content of the conversation. It’s about the vibe you are sending out during the conversation. Both consciously and unconsciously, people sense whether you are receptive and approachable.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, here’s some feedback I heard while asking people how good their bosses were at staying open to input:

“He does ask for input and feedback, but doesn’t really listen to or consider it.”

“She doesn’t seem to feel that the opinions of others are important.”

“He frequently shoots down others’ ideas.”

“When the group is trying to come up with ideas or suggestions, she acts like she is being personally attacked.”

Your tone of voice and body language speak volumes. So make sure you’re not sending the wrong message. Also, this is not the time for debate. Try to get people to open up by saying “Tell me more about that,” to keep the conversation going.  Remember, you’re trying to have a dialogue, not give a lecture. Set the stage for an honest dialogue and make sure people have the opportunity to say what they want to say.

If you’re the kind of leader who believes “It’s my way or the highway,” here are a few tips to help you show more receptivity:

  • Make sure your tone of voice and body language come across as receptive.
  • Be careful not to debate or battle for you own side.
  • Look for signs of people just telling you what you want to hear; then encourage more honest feedback.

Listening can be a hard craft to master, especially when it goes to really understanding the small signs that create high complexity in the work environment. My experience trying to explore this area has been with the incorporation of meditation and mindfulness practice into the business context but I would love to hear new perspectives.

Ta-ta!



Higher or wider? Choosing your next role

As I was approaching my senior year of high school, me and my classmates were lucky to have the opportunity of receiving considerably more counseling than the average high school senior when it came to the point of choosing our university and study majors.

Besides receiving good support to prepare for our SATs, our career advisor provided us with all sorts of tests to understand our learning styles (visual, auditory or kinesthetic) , our intellectual abilities (nummerical and verbal reasoning, space and time analysis, long term and short term memory, auditory and visual etc.) and of course career aptitude in the future.

For the purpose of this post I will focus on the last one and the results I was presented with: Suitable to all careers.

Yes, that was not much help really. I was very confused and didnt know which direction to take. With a decent skill for Maths and Science I had, it was silly not to consider a career in Engineering. Yet, I could not ignore my passion for Art and Design, so I ended up studying Business and Informatics.

While being busy studying Business, I was concerned not to let my interest for the Arts die, and I started considering to do a double major. This was the setting under which my mother gave me one of those career analogies that haunt you sometimes at worst and in the best case push you further. My mother, who is now well known in her field as an author, researcher and a professor told me at the time that a career was like building stairs. I was at the time busy building a step, and it as important for me to consider if:

  1. I want to build a wider step (having two Bachelors degrees)
  2. I want to build a next step to go higher (pursuit a Masters)

And that is I believe one of the questions that burns in the heads of most professionals now when a career transcends from university into the realm of promotions and next steps: Should I be a specialist or a generalist? How do I balance both?

As I started my career I decided to build higher, but when is the right time to build wider? How do you chose your next role between the palette of opportunities you are offered in a given time? What are the factors to be considered?

Based on my personal reflection and the experience of talking to thousands of candidates over the last decade, the answer turns out to be far more complex than money and career advancement. The factors that people assess when evaluating an employment opportunity fall into three categories: the firm (platform and track record, current and future prospects, people and culture), the job, and the compensation. These factors are interrelated, and most candidates willingly make tradeoffs.

Platform and track record 

How strong is the firm’s track record? What is its reputation? Working for a successful company is of the utmost importance to many. People want to be associated with success and not failure. Successful companies attract the best people, and, as they say, ‘success breeds success. Today we look for an overall platform, that is, not just a job but an opportunity to continue and evolve beyond the specific roles we discuss and I think this is particularly important in the service industries.

Current and future prospects

One also appraises a firm’s future prospects, market competitiveness, and business strategy. Is it well positioned? Today we look at the “strategy of the company—is it viable? Are they changing enough?”  People want to be part of the team that drives organizational growth, and be recognized for the added expertise that they bring.

People and culture 

When assessing a firm’s culture and people, many raise the question of fit. Is this a place where [I am] going to fit in and, most importantly, enjoy working and contributing? Do I share with the owners the same values and vision for the company? Today we also want to work with people we respect and can learn from. It is a hard lesson to get but the prospective boss or bosses (in a matrix organization) is maybe the most important individual(s) to consider when joining a firm not forgetting of course the sense you get from the team you will be working with.

The job 

When it comes to the job itself, the single most sought-after characteristic is opportunities for career advancement and personal growth. Change, variety, and some element of diversity, i.e., something new and different that will continue to challenge you, make you grow, and make you learn more about your own abilities and the world out there.

Many also consider the likelihood of succeeding and having an impact. Assess the training and development that the position offers, the resources that would be available to you, and the degree of autonomy the job entails; Many also think about how the outside world would perceive them in the role, particularly if they are highly visible.

Compensation 

Often times compensation is no longer as decisive as it used to be. It is more a matter of adhering to industry pay norms. But many do want the firm’s compensation system to be fair, transparent and consistent. People want assurance, that they will be rewarded and compensated according to the results delivered. Yet as a rule of thumb compensation must be equal or greater than current compensation, with longer-term positive prospects.

And here we go. A new year, a new choice, a new adventure with the best hopes. Taking the plunge.



The usual Schanze Riots Information War
December 24, 2013, 5:20 AM
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s pretty weird to read the entitlement with which some online detectives will use a couple of sources (YouTube videos or in best case observations of witnesses in this year’s Schanze demonstrations) to proof  that the aggression we saw in what turned into the riots a few days ago in my neighborhood were started by the police. I think the situation is far more complex than what they try to show, and I don’t want to proof the opposite, following Twitter feeds during the whole Saturday and reading more objective reports, I can only wonder if the police chose the best strategy for this occasion, which for the stories I hear from long time residents in this area, the better question is if a good strategy has ever been chosen to deal with the yearly situation of the Schanze.

What I worry about, is that those directly blaming the police for the outcome, really believe that if the police had taken no action and allowed the riots to run a more “natural”course, there would have been none of the damage and violence we witnessed.

What I can say as a resident of the area, and someone that lived at least the last two protests (had to cross them after practicing some Ruby with a friend in a bar, had a few dinners that turned noisy and even a bit worrisome or going home after work getting out of the subway or simply heard them or saw them from a window), is that a not always inconsiderable part of the protesters consider the demonstrations an “event” to attend  and don’t know the topics that the protests intend to address, many have very limited or no information on the reasons for which they are standing up.

A friend of mine, a very long term resident of the city talks of “riot tourists” which is a strong statement on its own. I believe it is not a very far fetched thesis to assume that the very heated up (to which I could believe recent policy has definitely contributed) atmosphere of last weekend’s demonstrations was built up by many people that the protests attracted from other parts in Germany and even abroad.

The police strategy actually doesn’t matter all that much

I heard that in the last years the police has come up with very different approaches to deal with the unpredictable Schanze protests. Yes, there were concepts in which the police tried to stay out of it as much as possible and the situation ended up in violence and vandalism anyway. An example is what happened in the 2009 attack of the police station a couple of blocks away from my apartment in what vandals called a very “boring Schanzenfest”, as they missed the contact with the police and went therefore looking for them.

What I do find daring is to blame the police for the situation that turned the protest into a riot when protesters showed up armed with fireworks and other objects. That situation alone should be able to show anyone with common sense that those individuals did not have the intention to demonstrate peacefully for the preservation of the Rote Flora, the Esso Houses or the right to stay of refugees.  It is actually sad that the topic the demonstrations meant to address felt out of the center of attention and that vandals acted as if taking justice in their own hands instead of bringing back up to sight the political themes and views that seem to be often forgotten.

It s an absolute shame that we get trapped in the stereotype of friend or enemy of the demonstrations rather than becoming conscious or active for the content goals of the demonstrations to become a center point of the local political agenda.

At some point this Saturday seemed to be an event for anyone that wanted to complaint but anything or nothing at all or maybe a zeitgeist of all the protests and topics that were discussed in 2013

The Quarter that shares the demonstrations political view is the one damaged the most.

Broken windows, broken signs, burned cars, and bicycles. Empty businesses on the day its usually most alive, Saturday.

Leaving on the side that the quarter in which I live was again vandalized, and it is the quarter in which most sympathetic citizens and supporters of the demonstrations and its ideas live still  (fairly so, the topics the demonstrations attempted to address are important ones) I have heard a couple of things that on the risk of sounding extremely German and petty, have become a concern for me: The route the protests followed is not the same route the city authorized for security reasons. It may seem like a small thing, but it speaks loudly of the behavior exhibited by the small groups that were unable to see the difference.

What is the consequence of this? Walking (a bit scared) towards a gathering I organized with a group of friends I found 20 – 30 policemen in each corner I crossed. Living close to the venue where we met I came across 60 -90 policemen. My friends also encountered a large amount of policemen as they came from different directions. To make our streets safe that night, the Hamburg police requested the support from policemen al over Germany… Bayern, Cologne, etc.  Take a few minutes… how many policemen were on duty in that night? What are the extra costs that need to be incurred? Policemen do not receive flamboyant salaries by any mean, but this very expensive night was paid by my taxes and those of others that would maybe consider their money could be put to better use than the control of violence and vandalism in a city in a night. You know, things like hospitals, schools, infrastructure, pensions, etc.

A funny fact in all this is that in the district of Altona, where most affected residents live, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is supporting the preservation of the Rote Flora and the tolerance of the Lampedusa refuges. But based on what you see, I bet that only 10% of those throwing stones and bottles know this at all, if they are interested in knowing this at all.

What do I hope for the future?

I live in Altona-Schanze-St. Pauli because it is the symbol of diversity and tolerance in the city of Hamburg, where there are cultural, economic, politic differences that make it lively and a pleasure to live in. Yet, last Saturday:

1. I didn’t visit my local supermarket.
2. I didn’t go to the drugstore.
3. I didn’t visit the vegetable shop that sells organic local produce.
4. I didn’t visit the atelier of a local designer or cut my hair in the usual one man shop.
5. My friends and I didn’t go for dinner at the local pizzeria.
6. I chose a place to meet my friends for a special occasion considering the chances of trouble. My friends were nervous to come see me for one of the last time, some almost didn’t show, or didn’t show at all.
7. Everyone got warned not to wear black.
8. The iconic punk bar I chose is usually full but this time, we were the only ones there. And we were worried about the windows where we could see four police vans protected the ATMS of the state owned bank.
9. Our conversations inevitably were focused on fear. A group that usually doesn’t care about political opinions to base friendship was often polarized. Talked about broken or stolen property, insulting graffiti at the door, etc.
10. When considering going to a next venue, most declined the idea and preferred to stay inside or go home. Best case, wait longer.

We woke up the next day, hoping this was only a one day thing, not like the last time.

I support freedom of speech and the freedom to gather that any of us in this country have. My hope is that the organizers of demonstrations will disinvite individuals that only have intentions of violence and vandalism if there is a way to identify them in advance. Do this openly and publicly. It is the only way in which one will be able to take tolerance as the starting point of demonstrations and protests in Schanze.

For residents of the area safety is becoming a more important issue, and violence and vandalization should no longer be tolerated. The damage incurred (NOT ONLY during protests) puts the livelihood of many at risk. The doors and windows that get broken or spray painted without distinction don’t always belong to the large corporations that they are meant to go against.  Usually it is the small business owners that make this area the quarter we so much love and give us a diverse scene and range of products and services, those who are not able to find a policy that will cover them for their damages anymore and that will often times have to pay from their own pocket for replacements, repainting, etc.

And for us, residents, who love street art in the area, we are sick of waking up to our doors or windows scratched, with cheap spray painted phrases such as “Yuppies get out of here!”… That is not graffiti. It happens often to my own building; Little do they know that most residents of the house live here longer before Schanze was trendy, a majority are born here, longer before rents became ridiculously high… A single mother with three kids, an artist, a sailor, an immigrant and a blue collar worker. We hardly qualify as yuppies but those who do it wouldn’t care to ask, would they?




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