Archive for July, 2008

Level 5 Leadership & Barack Obama

July 31, 2008

Level 5 Leaders, according to Jim Collins in his 2001 bestselling book, Good to Great, possess “a paradoxical mix of intense determination and profound humility.” Collins proposes that the most effective leaders of modern business have been extremely humble, self-sacrificing executives who are more interested in the long-term benefit of the team and the company than in personal ego and financial gain. Collins goes on to state that although his findings come from empirical evidence collected from the business realm, his recommendations are also good for other sectors, even politics. While discussing Level 5 leadership with my students last Spring, I proposed a minor qualification to Colling’ theory: Perhaps a really great Level 5 leader (a Level 6 leader?) is so self-sacrificing that he is willing to put himself in the spotlight, to attract fame and popularity, and to even be criticized for not possessing the characteristics of Level 5 leadership for the sake of his company, his community, or his country if that is what is needed.

Barack Obama has recently been criticized by John McCain’s camp (see McCain’s ad here) for being an arrogant celebrity, an ego maniacal personality whom is more interested in his own fame than in confronting the many challenges America is sure to face in the near future. I agree with Steve Schmidt, McCain’s campaign manager when he says, “I would say that it is beyond dispute that [Barack Obama] has become the biggest celebrity in the world,” but I don’t think that is such a bad thing. I think at this critical point in American history we need a leader who inspires us and calls on us to help move the country in a positive direction. We need a leader who is willing to assume whatever role is necessary to bring out the best in us, even if that role is as a seemingly self centred celebrity.

I, of course, have concerns about Obama’s lack of experience and his tendency to revel in his fame, but I think his ability to inspire Americans is important at this time and is something we need right now to shift our momentum as a country. It is much to early to tell if Obama is a Level 6 leader, but I certainly hope so.


Tourist vs. Visitor

July 30, 2008

I have been discussing, with my aunt, the differences between being a tourist and being a visitor. I have enjoyed being a visitor much more than being a tourist.

As a visitor, I have reconnected with old friends, engaged in deep conversations with family members, and met new, interesting friends who were introduced to me by the person I was staying with. As a tourist, I have asked random people on the street to take a picture of me with a landmak in the background, but have otherwise kept to myself.

As a visitor, I saved money on lodging by sleeping on my friend’s couch and cooking in her kitchen. As a tourist, I spent money paying for a hostel and eating out every night.

As a visitor, I knew exactly what cafe to go to for the best service and best coffee in Vienna. As a tourist, I was forced to pick an over-priced, under-quality restaurant at random because it was near by.

As a visitor, I have had free and unlimited access to internet to stay in touch with friends and keep up with my blog. As a toursit, I have had to pay for internet access in an overpriced, overly hip cafe.

I have been lucky enough to stay with friends or friends of friends in all but one of the cities I have visited and I am thankful for that. In the future I hope to be a perpetual visitor and infrequent tourist.

Point & Shoot

July 30, 2008

Traveling through Europe has given me plenty of opportunities to take photos and improve my photography skills in general. While, in the past month I don’t think I have become a much better photographer, taking pictures has taught me a few things:

  1. Sometimes it is better to not take pictures at all. During my trip I would often feel frustration at my inability to capture the full essence of a place or event with my mediocre point and shoot digital camera. Of course getting a more expensive camera would help me capture the scene better. Learning more about photography would also help me take better pictures. But, regardless of equipment or expertise nothing can recreate the experience of being there. Sometimes it is better to stop taking pictures, breath in the air, closely examine the details of what you are looking at, and experience the place you are at like a human being, rather than a digital eye.
  2. Don’t rush. Sometimes it is very nice to take pictures and I try to do so whenever I think it will enhance, or at least not limit, my enjoyment of a place. But when taking a picture, don’t rush. I have seen people in Paris racing around the Eiffel Tower getting as many shots as possible. My opinion is that it is better to take quality pictures than a bunch of craptastic ones, and if the picture doesn’t turn out the way you want it to, have the patience to check your settings, your lighting, your angle and try it again.
  3. Take lots of (quality) pictures and throw the bad ones away. Thanks to digital technology the marginal cost of taking, storing, and retrieving a picture is close to zero. This is a good and a bad thing. Good because it allows people to take many pictures in the pursuit of a great shot. Bad because most people don’t throw the bad pictures away. Chances are you won’t come back and look at those pictures very often over the course of your life, but when you do wouldn’t it be nice to see good quality pictures?
  4. Don’t be embarassed. I don’t know if other people feel this way, but sometimes when I am taking pictures I feel very embarassed, which leads me to rush through the picture-taking process or sometimes not take a potentially great picture at all. This embarrassment comes from several things: a)being associated with a subject (person, place, or thing) that seems stupid, silly, or inappropriate; b) identifying myself as a tourist; c) crouching in heavy pedestrian traffic. This has been a silly inhibition of mine and I a working to get over it. If I am interested in taking a picture of something or in directing a subject to do something stupid or to crouch in the middle of foot-traffic to get a nice angle I should be proud of the creativity, attention, and thought I am giving to my pictures. I shouldn’t be embarassed that I want to take a picture of something.

Although these are things I have learned from taking pictures, I think they make nice lessons for my life as well.


London with Anneka

July 26, 2008

I have been slacking on this blog, but for good reason…I am lazy. Here’s the latest update:

  • My friend Anneka has been kind enough to let me crash on her couch for a few days. Anneka is a Londoner, born and raised, and attended the University of Sussex. In 2004 she studied abroad at Penn where I met her and we have kept in touch ever since.
  • I have had my fill of huge cities for the moment so I am trying to take it easy while in the UK. I spent my first day in London in my towel, watching movies and doing laundry.
  • London is busy and crowded, but has a charm, which I am hoping to explore more today.
  • My friend James (born in Ghana, raised in the UK) took me to a movie screening the other day, Meltwater has an office in London, which I was able to visit so I have been finding plenty of ppl to hang out with and plenty of things to do

I am going to stay with my Auntie tomorrow in the British countryside.

Paris at Sunset

July 21, 2008
Start: 9:13pm | Paris Sunset | End: 10:21pm
Sunday, July 20th 2008 | Fron: Tour Montparnasse | Height: 210m

Looking west:



July 19, 2008

I saw this video in the Nike Store in Paris. Sometimes I wish this were my life:

Schizophrenic Praha

July 14, 2008

Prague is full of historic buildings, enchanting streets, and beautiful lights. Prague is full of noxious cigarette smoke, bad graffiti, and apparent poverty. I am struck by the apparent division that exists in Prague between the city center, which is full of tourists, and the residential areas I have seen (albeit I have only seen the outskirts of Prague from the window or a tram), which have all the signs of an economically depressed area – vacant store fronts, dirty streets, and graffiti. I could totally be misreading the city, but this is my impression from my 3 days her so far, but I like it. It kinda reminds me of Philly.

Vienna is next; hopefully the weather will be better. Some of our sightseeing in Prague has been limited or diminished by a persistent overcast and rain. That being said, I have managed to get some amazing shots of the city and will be posting them soon. Prosimo.

My mother’s motherland: Czech Republic

July 10, 2008

Haven’t been doing much lately. Eat more delicious food. Practiced my German and was laughed at my Sebastian. Sent in my scholarship deferment request. And played some Nintendo Wii.

But in few hours I will be in the land of my ancestors: the Czech Republic. My mother’s mother’s mother was from Bohemia. My aunt Roberta has even done some research and located the town of Pisek as the most likely place of our families origin before emigrating to the US in the early 20th century.

I have always thought that I had a very European nose I guess I will be able to figure out if it comes from my Czech roots, it is surely not from my African side. Hopefully, my Bohemian brothers and sisters actually believe that I am one of their kinfolk.



July 9, 2008

I just got back from seeing GrandMaster Flash at Weekend. It was an amazing show. His technique was flawless, his song selection was top-notch, and the only time he dropped a beat was when the crowd was jumping too much.

I spent most of the show posted up 3 feet from the legend, jumping, dancing, shouting, and when the mood struck me, Wu-Tanging.

GrandMast Flash really has nothing to do with Berlin, Europe, Ghana, or anything else going on in my world right now, but I wanted to take the time to acknowledge a man who helped create Hip-Hop and thank god for an amazing night.

The picture here is a shot of me and Aditi from Halloween 2006 when I dressed up as GMF.

10 July, 2008
Berlin, 4am

Reluctant Tourists

July 9, 2008

I saw Checkpoint Charlie today, by myself. I had a doctor’s appointment at a tropical health clinic nearby and had some spare time afterwards so I grabbed another döner and walked around the tourist spot, taking pictures. I found myself resenting the tourists I saw there. Their tour vans, big cameras, and clueless looks annoyed me and I was reluctant to be associated with them so I put on my ipod, dialed up The Cool Kids & Lupe Fiasco and did my best Berliner impression. I did manage to read the signs explaining the history of Checkpoint Charlie as I wandered around a bit and I tried my best to not look embarrassed when I snapped a couple of pictures of the flags in front of the guard building, but for some reason the idea of being a tourist doesn’t sit well with me.

My ire for the phanny-pack wearing, culture appropriating, camera wielding sparked again when Sebastian and I gave in to our inner-tourists and made our way tocrowds was Alexanderplatz to see the city from the top. It took us about 3 seconds to decide that the long line and loss of 10 euros we were about to endure was not worth it. Once again I was reluctant to do the tourist thing, which is strange because a tourist is exactly what I am.

The problem is that sometimes this reluctance to act as a tourist leaves me feeling distant, although Berlin had made plenty of effort to make the relevance and importance of the sites accessible to me. Of course I do not always deny my inner tourist. I have been to museums and most of the major sites in Berlin, but I have the feeling I could be getting more out of this experience if I weren’t so embarassed about what I am actually here to do. I promise to do better in Prague.