I am going for the MBA

A Master of Business Administration… a MBA… like in going to university?

Lately I have been writing about my car and what to do with Patagonia. Now is the time to write a bit about myself and a big decision made recently.

It might be, life soon is to get very easy with autonomous systems and robots doing all the deep thinking and hard work. If that… sorry when that happens all we need to do is being creative, leaning back and enjoying the comfortable ride.

None the less I have chosen to stretch and go to university. Here I will start a classic study of corporate management focused on strategic leadership and the financial side of running a business.

In a couple of days I head to Aalborg University to embark on a two-year MBA.

AAU Executive is Aalborg University’s school for post-graduate studies and masters in business management.

Time flies when having fun

I never got the time to get the academic foundation in place. Now is the time to enter a new sprint, move onto the next curve, get an upgrade, sharpen the pencil or whatever metaphor fits.

I have never pitched studying against other mid-life projects like the ironman, writing a book, going paleo, baking cakes or cross fit bonanza. I would look very funny in full spandex on expensive and wheeled carbon fibre,  so there at least people would get a good laugh. Anyway, academia get ready for here I come!

My career started as a designer at LEGO back in 1997. The plan was to do that for a year and then on to university. 7 years later as a Creative Director, having played key roles in making LEGO Star Wars and Bionicle big successes, I had achieved to get a Certificate in Business Administration (CBA). But this was only one-third of the way to a full MBA.

After LEGO started a new journey with 10 years of management consulting. Those years I have spent in many different constellations. I have been and still is working globally as well as locally in Denmark for very interesting companies. This way of working takes me  across many different industries where I get involved in exciting projects with inspiring people.

Now I am at the point, where I feel ready to take the next steps. The sons are in their teenage years doing great and I am in my early forties feeling great. Hair is gone but there are lots of drive and ambition left in these two meters of loud baldness.

Why a classic MBA and not something more fancy?

Today there are many flashy, and cool to name drop educations and courses out there. I have opted for a classic MBA to learn the methods and language, to further increase the impact I today create within design and innovation management and leadership.

I look forward to get the academic basics in place on especially corporate management, strategic leadership and financial planning.

The Aalborg University class of 2018 at their graduation. © Lars Horn / Baghuset

Therefore I choose to study at a proven, academic and innovative university here in Denmark. My everyday job is very international, so for me it is less about exchanges and seeing the world. It is much more a matter of joining a lean and focused program in a good environment.

This MBA is a project of supplementing my 20 year long pragmatic and experience driven career within design and innovation with a solid, proven academic foundation. 

I will keep working full time, so I guess bingewatching, trawling the internet and having long quiet weekend mornings for coffee and complementation are over for now.

Hopefully I will see you on the other side with new skills and energy. If all goes well you will at least get a chance to see me wearing a funny hat.

Patagonia dressed to kill

Well, it shows that Patagonia, the darling of sustainable business, is also the darling of military special forces.

Patagonia, the maker of outdoor apparel, is known for activily promoting and embedding  sustainability and a high degree of responsiblity into their business model. According to their website their brand promise is:

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

OK then. But with the design and supply of military combat uniforms this gets a bit weird. We talk about Patagonia dressing the tip of the spear in form of US special operations forces. Among others the Navy Seals, Army Special Forces and the 75th Ranger Regiment. These are the guys who get send on secret, shoot first – ask later missions.

One big, fat conspiration theory?

OK, I know I am pulling all the bells and whistles and are putting myself in a spot where you would often find conspiration theorists. So to take it upfront here comes the disclaimer.

This post is not a piece of investigative journalism with validated sources and first hand research. My research is an hour spent googling, one lonely night in a hotel room, with not enough bandwith for Netflixing. I guess this speaks for not having had to look that hard.

There is enough out there to build an interesting case. Very important! I am not chasing Patagonia or USSOCOM. They are both inspiring, well performing and highly esteemed organizations and I find it inspiring how they run their organizations.

What I am trying to do is to build a case with the hope to nuance the discussions on responsible acting companies in esprcially the design community.

The “Dont’t Buy This Jacket” campaign

In recent years Patagonia has had huge success branding them as a very responsible and sustainable company. This to a degree so it is hard to have a conversation on sustainability and responsability without the mentioning of Patagonia.

Back in 2011 on Black Friday Patagonia ran an ad in the New York Times which has become a legend and a symbol of how to take sustainability to new levels.

 

The November 25th 2011 Black Friday ad in New York Times

 

What Patagonia talks about is protecting nature through their Common Threads Initiative. It is a great initiative and great marketing, but I will not here elaborate further on it. What I do want to talk about is how we in the design community maybe took it too far and put Patagonia on a pedestal which they might not fully qualify for.

The dark side of Patagonia

The starting point for Patagonia’s military ventures could have started with their former CEO Michael Crooke being a Navy Seal operator. He would know first hand the importance of great gear and maybe he still had connections in the special operations community.

I assume as the uniforms are for special operators they are not public available for sale, so it is hard to find out what is being made and what the scope of the contracts are.  I guess this goes perfectly hand in hand with military contractual requirments and the wishes from the Patagonia brand team, as none of them are promoting or mentioning it.

When you today look for uniforms on Patagonia websites you only find mentioning of civil goverment bodies. Wagely I remember in the past there might have been some Patagonia branded military sales websites.

But for proof look no further than ebay:

 

A check on Ebay searching “patagonia + uniform” gives you 155 hits. Not a lot, but the context of it being supplied under a USSOCOM contract for combat troops makes it a relative scarse piece of 2nd hand equipment.

 Patagonia and the military

Before 2002 I am not sure what Patagonia’s history as a military supplier is. What we know is that in 2002 US special operators were freezing their butts off in Afghanistan. This ultimately led to the development of the Protective Uniform System. More information here and here on the design and history of the system. The PCU is a layered system where Patagonia supplied or still are supplying parts of.

OK, back in the early days of fighting in Afghanistan, everybody was sort of in panic. We had rushed into Afghanistan and soon found troops in new situations for which there quickly had to be made solutions for. Maybe it was just a matter of Patagonia back then being struck by patroism and that was it…

… but then I came across this post talking about the new range of Patagnonia gear.

As late as spring 2017 Patagonia have under what seems another brand (Lost Arrrow Project) re-launched their uniform system called MARS which is short for Military Advanced Regulator System.

So we can conclude that what we percieve as a very responsible company, is a company who is activily designing, manufacturing and supplying uniforms to the military. I my mind that can go hand in hand, but I am affraid that is not the general opinion in the design community or even the broader public.

Where does this leave me?

Taking part in the debate let me first share my own opinion.

I really have no issues with Patagonia making military gear. Personally I volunteered for military service and I have friends who have been serving both as regular army and special operators in former Jugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. The military is something a modern democracy hardly cannot exist without and for those who got what it takes it can be, a dangerous yes, but also very rewarding career choise.

I do not agree with the politics of the recent wars in especially Afghanistan and Iraq and how it completely went out of scope. But, I have nothing to blame the soldiers or the military community for. Solidier are doing their job. They are directed by our politicans. Those politicias we elected.

I believe we have an obligation to  do whatever we can to protect, support and bring them home safe. If Patagonia can help do this – awesome!

The design community discussion

What puzzles me is the very contradicting images of on one side:

a Pagagonia wearing millennial designer in a vegan cafe discussing sustainability and fighting for companies to act responsible

and on the other side the horrible and violent image of:

a special force operator clad in a Patagonia  uniform, guiding a Hellfire missile launched from a drone, straight into the living room of a poor family, who coincidentally that night got a visit from their evil cousin.

or the image of a more shady version:

a CIA operator taking a millenial, vegan Afghan shepard, on a secret plane to a even more secret prision.

 

I do not know what these Navy Seals are wearing, but the guys express a different kind of Patagonia values than what we are used to see. Official U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon, Naval Special Warfare Command Public Affairs Office.

 

Responsible?

The Common Thread Initiative was mainly about protecting nature. This you can of cause also do when making uniforms. The thing is, that in the design community the case has been adobted as a benchmark example on how to act responsible as a company.

As mentioned in the beginning the Patagonia brand statement is:

“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

What is responsible and what defines “unnecessary harm” is a political decision, but I know few designers who believes warfare and killing is super responsible, inspiring and catogorized as unnecessary harm.

In the design community I think we should be a bit more cautious building cases and a bit more critical when putting somebody on a throne they might not fully deserve.

 

Notes

Early November I emailed Patagonia’s communication team more or less what I have been writing here. I asked how we in the design community should deal with this. They did not get back to me.

The photo in the beginning of the post is a mix of two images. One from a US Navy Special Warfare Center website taken by Visual Information Specialist Chris Desmond and the other from Patagonia’s website.

Emotion beating the crap out of logic!

Customer Experience Design and Saab?

Tomorrow I am teaching Design in Customer Experience at the Grow Design Management course in Oslo.

Getting the last preparation in place I came to think of my resent car purchase. Diving into the topic of Customer Experience, Service design and Design Management I could not help scrutinizing it.

I finally got the car I had been wanting to get for the last 10 years. A Saab 9-5 SportCombi. I have logic reasons for why this is the right car. But I guess I have even more reason for why it is the very wrong car. Old technology, high consumption, tax and insurance, way to big for what is needed and many more reasons I have forgot.

We needed a second car to commute to the airport and if at the same time it was roomy for the occasional haul of furniture, luggage, trash or…. Well I do not know – I just wanted that car and to be honest it was purely an emotion driven purchase.

The Kardashian of estates. We all have our opinions but you cannot ignore it is well designed with lots of care, got great lines and is impressive to look at.

I love the looks, how it sits on the road, the old school single turbo engine, the seats, the audio system and then there is the cup holder. Ohhhh yes the cup holder!

The cupholder to rule them all

It is soooo good it in itself could trigger the purchase. Just check out how others on Youtube are celebrating it:

An not only in a Saab but also apparently on a Vespa:

Minimum viable… yeah well

I would love if the world had more of this pleasant silliness.

Today where it is all about minimum viable products, designing to specific, forensic researched use cases and endless optimization to cost and manufacturing, we should have the guts to sometimes force in more of these small, quirky and highly non-logic experiences.

Yes – Saab did never make a profit, and yes the Japanese and Germans made technically more advanced and better designed cars, and in way higher numbers and yes, if GM had understood to levereage the Saab brand better etc. etc.

Please let me just for now enjoy my Saab. I really like it a lot.

Update

Finally, a new version of trueheart.dk up and running 🙂 It is still very light but at least now the basics are in place.

The LEGO X-wing

Wow. I just realized it is 20 year ago I started as a model builder at LEGO.

I cannot remember what my first model hitting the market was, but the first Star Wars model was the LEGO Star Wars X-wing fighter 7140.

All other of my achievements fades compared to this…