Harry Starren

Idealists without a utopia, by Michiel Goudswaard

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Nowadays, European politics is little more than crisis control. Hours of meetings by finance ministers, extremely nervous financial markets, and European citizens who have long since lost their way. Fear is reigning. We know that the situation is serious, and that it could get even more out of hand at any time. But we don’t know exactly what would happen if that were the case.

As the euro crisis entered the Italian phase, I took part in a pan-European dialogue of a completely different nature last week. A conference organized by training center De Baak did not concern interest rates, emergency loans and ‘haircuts’. Around forty people representing the business community, community-based organizations and science discussed numerous aspects of European life which are being pushed to the
background by the reports on the crisis. Continue reading

The same but different

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Is the right the new left?

The 1960s and 1970s were formative years for me. The years in which I constantly listened to music. I sang on the street and my thoughts were dancing. They were the years in which I formed my opinions, entered into new relationships and made decisive choices. No music can match the music from those formative years. That has been thoroughly worked out and, as far as I understand, applies to all generations, time and time again.

The same thing will happen to my daughter (19), who bridges her time with music that I cannot give a name to. If I say that to her, she does not understand me because she only takes out her earphones for exceptional cases. I am rarely that exception. Then little remains but contemplation.

You used to have ‘the Left’ as a matter of course, just as you now have ‘the Right’. The ‘it-has-to-be-said’ Right. Statements that are past any shame. Simply saying what you think. Giving room to the jerk in you. Give war a chance.

The ones who you did not hear in the past belonged to the silent majority. They were people who were too cowardly or too sensible: categories that are not mutually exclusive in the least, I now know. The petit bourgeois who saved the silence for the storm.

According to optimistic friends (I have no others) the tide will soon be turning and this is a phase “that may be needed.” The “I-do-not-agree-with-everything-that-is-said” friends. Those friends.

Perhaps this is what is going on: social cod-liver oil, which provides resilience for rough times. Something that fits in a series of terms: the crisis as opportunity, the reverse side of being right, a break in a structural trend, from the soft powers that win in the end. In the end. These are words that give the things their position and need to remove the threat. It will pass: you have to stand above the fray, make your own plan, not let yourself be afraid of anything, sail your own course. Carmiggelt called that ‘Whistling in the dark’, but who still knows him? A friend.

I come from an environment in which the soft forces would win in the end. According to my realistic friends (I have no others) “we will no longer experience that”: soft forces enough, but winning is not in the books. Soft forces lose every time to hard forces, my friend. And we? Guys, but nice guys, whose ship has come in. We have traded our standing room for seats. The retirement years will start to count.

We live in a time in which the right determines the agenda. The issues that were once made by the left fade and become musty, even if you have a seat on the left side. International solidarity, reducing differences in income and the ability to pay principle makes room for personal responsibility, more stringent punishment, closing borders and drawing lines. We keep a close eye on our fellow man. We put everything and everyone under surveillance. Make war, not love. Is the new right perhaps the same as the old left in my formative years? In the way that car salesmen are calling “white” the “new black”? Is right indeed the new left? Is it an expression of cultural uneasiness, but now from the other side? Is it a revolt against the “establishment”, the established order? Those who read the simple texts and consider the strange hair style of some new politicians become confused by that suspicion. Whereas we occupied the Maagdenhuis and organized events at the Spui, they occupy the parliament, determine the agenda of our society, and they tolerate (that’s what it says) the Cabinet. A friend calls it craftsmanship. “It’s craftsmanship, in any case.”

It was once all about us. And then… I see it. Geert Wilders is a bleached Roel van Duin. An improved version that stands on the narrow shoulders of his bearded predecessor. So that, according to my cheerful friends (I would like to have others) only one – clear, but unacceptable – conclusion is possible: “The matter is hopeless, but not serious.”

HARRY STARREN is Director of De Baak. He is a speaker, honorary chairman and commentator on themes such as strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship.



Hetzelfde anders

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Is rechts het nieuwe links?

De jaren zestig en zeventig waren mijn vormende jaren. De jaren waarin ik voortdurend naar muziek luisterde. Ik zong op straat en mijn gedachten dansten. Het waren de jaren waarin ik mijn opinies vormde, nieuwe relaties aanging en beslissende keuzes maakte. Geen muziek kan op tegen de muziek uit je vormende jaren. Dat is grondig uitgezocht en geldt, naar ik begrijp, voor alle generaties, telkens weer. Mijn dochter (19), die heel haar ‘leeftijd’ overbrugt met muziek die ik geen naam kan geven, zal hetzelfde overkomen. Als ik haar dat zeg, verstaat ze me niet omdat zij haar earphones alleen bij uitzondering uitdoet. Continue reading

23 March 2011 | Chairman of the Diversity Workshop at John Adams Institute Amsterdam: Everybody Works!

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This was a hands-on conference and workshopthat explored practical ways in which to connect diverse youth to labor opportunities in the private and public sectors. Organized by the John Adams Institute in cooperation with the United States Embassy and the U.S. Department of State, the conference started with an overview of the situation and challenges in the Netherlands, the United States and Europe, followed by presentations on best practices from officials and NGOs from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Ireland and the United States, among other countries.

By discussing diversity in ways that range from the “big picture” to practical approaches and successful programs, this conference helped growing a network of people committed to bringing diversity to the workplace and empowering future generations.
Form ore on this event, please go to: http://www.john-adams.nl/lecture.php?id=717&lang=uk

Collector’s item | “A professional can take some liberties”

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Harry Starren (55), Director of De Baak, feels an affinity with the primitive power and childlike expression of Karel Appel.

“I make a lot of purchases, but am not very attached to things. In my student days, I made a game out of furnishing my apartment only with materials I had found — except for my books and stereo installation. I bought this apartment in Amsterdam as is, furnishings and all, including cutlery, from a man who moved to the Dominican Republic.” Continue reading

I don’t have an office, I am an office

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Advocating a new approach to work: no predefined office or preassigned workstation, but higher net working hours and more job satisfaction.

In the advertising world, the word ‘new’ is one of the easiest ways to grab people’s attention. No one is eager to have the ‘old’. New can be a label tacked on to make people want to buy the old again – but ‘new’ only has a real, sustainable chance if it is authentic. It has to actually be new.
There are many facets to this concept. The new approach to work – flexibility in terms of time and place – is similar in some ways to the old approach to work, which predated the Industrial Age. Industrial labor was very dependent on specific places and times. Farm work was primarily seasonal, with various forms of migrant labor (the oldest form of temp work), skilled crafts that were frequently tied to a workshop, and the traveling salesmen and merchants. All those forms of work still exist, although they have frequently changed shape and color. Continue reading

NRC Handelsblad | Why…we should ask why more often?

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Managers quickly move on to the what and how of it all.
Leaders start by asking a question: why? And another: Why?
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished, as the Tao teaches.

Children ask it over and over. Why? Why? Why? It makes parenting a learning experience. You find out how much you don’t actually know. ‘Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that one either.’
Parenting is also a confronting experience. ‘Honey?’ he calls desperately from the kitchen, ‘Do you know why we have children?’
Good consultants ask that same question over and over, repeated ad infinitum. Coaches do too:
– ‘Why is that important?’
– ‘Why are you doing it if you don’t like how it turns out?’
– ‘Why do you find it irritating that I ask that question?’
– ‘Why are you denying that you’re irritated?’
– ‘You say “you” when you mean “I”. Why are you doing that?’

Simon Sinek, author of the book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action shows that it makes sense to ask that ‘why’ question because the question itself creates meaning. The answer can give us wings, carry us forward. It is, in his view, the essence of leadership.
Effective leaders start by asking why. Only then do they move on to the how, ultimately embarking on the what. Managers opt for the practical sequence and start with the what, getting down to brass tacks from the start.
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished, as the Tao teaches. That nugget of wisdom is lost on many managers. They’d rather get things done than sit and think. Let’s get moving. And what happens then? It’s easy to guess: recalcitrant employees pepper them with questions from all sides. It’s a free-for-all. ‘But why?’ and “Then how?’ In this heavy crossfire, ill-conceived proposals are immediately on the defensive. They get tangled in the undergrowth of what rapidly becomes ‘an issue’. And that’s it; the fun’s over.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a master of the ‘why’ question. He explained it by referring to his Zen training and the time he spent in ashrams in India. Maybe Bill Gates over at Microsoft should have done the same, Steve Jobs said snidely. It might have saved us a ton of bad software and ugly products.
The route that doesn’t speed down the highway as fast as possible isn’t far off the mark.
– ‘Why are we doing that?’
– ‘Why do we want that?’

The higher purpose brings the lower goal within our grasp. The goal is supported by the intention, and that can be revealed by asking ‘why’. It gives space and creates a sense of direction. ‘Why’ invites a flood of answers, which in turn lead back to why. In essence, it requires nothing more than child-like candor.
It is a quest to discover what drives us. It’s the same as what Socrates did. He took the time and asked question after question until the meaning became apparent. No Sophist was safe from his persistent inquiries. Reflection, asking yourself those questions, means standing still to achieve deep contemplation, in order to move full speed ahead afterwards. How can you find answers if you don’t ask the questions?
Philosophy may well be the most practical school of science in the knowledge economy. A good question overshadows a hundred answers, as the brilliant interviewer Ischa Meijer once said. He had been able to sharpen his talented wit on Sal Tas, his psychiatrist.
Questions can take on brilliant forms. As Dutch comedian Hans Teeuwen said, ‘What if this question isn’t hypothetical?’
In his last show, Dutch cabaret artist Herman van Veen tells the audience about his grandson, who proudly presents a drawing to him.
‘What is it?’ Herman asks.
‘It’s a rabbit, Grandpa.’
‘But why doesn’t it have long ears?’
‘Those are still in my pencil, Grandpa.’

I had to think of Michelangelo, who said his art was nothing more than freeing the form from within the stone. The ‘why’ question contains its own answer; the question sets the answer free.
Asking why confers meaning, offers sense, and sets us in motion – especially when our first reflex is to answer, ‘I don’t know.’
Why do we see the world in color?
Why is the grass green and the sky blue?

Harry Starren
Director of De Baak, training institute for leadership and entrepreneurship

Why questions

‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ Martin Heidegger, derived from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
‘Why wouldn’t truth be stranger than fiction?’ Mark Twain
[actual quote: ‘It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.’]
‘Why was I born with such contemporaries?’ Oscar Wilde
‘Why can’t I just eat my waffle?’ Barack Obama
‘Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?’ Bertrand Russell
‘Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered?’ Woody Allen
‘Why should we take advice on sex from the pope?’ G.B. Shaw
This is the first installment in a series of contemplations based on a why question. In this feature, seemingly simple questions set out in search of inspiring answers. Suggestions for why questions can be mailed to mensen@nrc.nl.

NRC Handelsblad
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
p. 7

BID | Big Improvement Day 19 januari 2010 | Amsterdam RAI

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Juist in economische zware tijden, heeft men behoefte aan een positieve
impuls. Van een crisissfeer was dan ook niets te merken op de derde dinsdag
van januari in de Amsterdam RAI. Optimisme was het codewoord op de Big
Improvement Day, de tegenhanger van Prinsjesdag. Topondernemers en
-overheidsfunctionarissen verzamelden zich op 19 januari 2010 om nieuwe
ideeën op te doen en bovenal een positieve boost te krijgen. Uitvoerig werd
er stil gestaan bij wat er goed gaat in Nederland en wat nog beter kan.
Deze sfeerimpressie neemt u mee door deze bijzondere dag!
Onder leiding van dagvoorzitter Harry Starren passeerden talrijke sprekers de
revue. Zij spraken over de kracht van Nederland en de kansen die nog in het
verschiet liggen. Speeches over Duurzaamheid en energie, Ondernemerschap,
Educatie en Leiderschap, het D.O.E.L van BID.

Leiderschap is geen functie, maar gedrag

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