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Archive for December 2018

Switching from consumerism to freedom

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A second hand clothes shop in Brussels

This week, I read an interesting article about digital nomads in the Belgian economic magazine, Trends-Tendances. In this article, an IT entrepreneur explains that he decided to work as a digital nomad, in order to break the routine, to visit other countries and discover new things that can feed your knowledge and creativity. Before to start this new life, he decided to sale all the stuff he did not need anymore. His conclusion was that such decision has a liberating effect.

In his book How to be idle, Tom Hodgkinson, a British writer and editor of “The idler”, explains that he decided one day to leave London and to live in the country in a farm, and to adopt a simpler lifestyle, avoiding consumerism.  In his book, he explains that our current society is based on consumerism, and that we spend time doing a job not always enjoyable, in order to reimburse debts.

I mention these two examples, because I experienced the same thing few months ago.  As freelance consultant and interim manager, I decided to redirect my activities in another segment of business, working for SME instead of big and multinational companies. Like any business you start, it takes time to build a portfolio of customers, and when you have the first contact with a potential customer, it takes few months before to conclude an collaboration agreement, if the customer decides to contract your services.

In order to prepare this new activity on financial level, I set up a budget. In one of the different scenarios, counting on a low level of revenue, I reviewed each line of expenses in order to cut what was not necessary. A huge expense item I cut was the car expenses. In Brussels where I live, the public transportation is the most efficient way to move. In a precedent article, I explained how I made my time profitable by using public transportation by reading books. By using public transportation modes, owning a car that most of the time was parked along the sidewalk, was expensive and totally useless. As in many cities, I can use car sharing systems too, and I have the chance too to share a car with a family member.  One of my thoughts and my feeling about such decision was too a liberating effect.

How to explain this liberating effect? In this transition period, as far as the trend is on line with my budget, I have more time to do things to prepare the future, more time to do things I like to do. I take this opportunity too to meet people in order to expand my network, to do self-training sessions to expand my knowledge. At the end of the day, I have the feeling to get more satisfaction about what I did during the day.  The result of this brainstorming is to focus on doing things I like the most. But what about the revenue generated by this new activity. Will it be the same than previously? Probably not as the available budgets in SME are not comparable with large companies and the duration of assignments will be shorter.

How to deal with this constraint? There, I come back to the two examples I mentioned to begin this article. The IT entrepreneur sold his stuff before to switch to his nomad worker career, and noticed that he did not use the three quarters of what he had in his cupboards.  Another way to say that most of the time, we buy stuff because we are influenced by ads, by modes, by marketing, by the feeling to make a good deal, but not by real necessity.  Same finding done by Tom Hodgkinson. We are buying things we don’t really need and for some purchase are made on credit, generating interests. So people are obliged to take any job they don’t like in order to reimburse debts. They are slaves of the consumerism, of a stupid consumerism. Of course, each of us we consume products and services, but there are interesting alternative to consume smartly.  Buy what you really need. Buy second hand stuffs, it is good for the planet and for your wallet.

Finally, the question is to know if consumerism is a barrier to freedom, and if yes how to switch from consumerism to freedom?  It is a difficult process but not impossible to implement. It takes time to switch from our habits to other habits. The key of the process is motivation. As we need to work to earn money, the question is do you work only to earn more and more money or do you want to have a work  you enjoy and where you can develop yourself? Is the quality of your work more important than the fact to own a big car? What is really important in your life, what bring you satisfaction and pleasure? It only depends from your own choice, it is your own decision.  The decision to become an actor, the actor of your own life, and not only a consumer, but a smarter consumer.


Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 17, 2018 at 08:23

Seniority is an asset

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Seniors workersAs many other criteria like race, gender, or social level, seniority is often an element of discrimination. When companies are operating restructuring processes, it is often the seniors who are fired. Most of the time, there are considered as a cost for the company, and less productive than the youngest. It is a short term vision, and a purely financial logic that doesn’t care about the quality level of work provided by people.

Productivity and creativity are not a question of age. It is a question of mind. Some people are always in a learning mode. In an ongoing changing world, they live with their time and consider learning new things as new opportunities. The key of such way of life is motivation. As far as you define and attribute goals matching with people competences, experience and expectations, you can only have motivated people who will give the best of themselves.

Experience and knowledge are advantages of seniority, as far as you learn from them. Experience means that you are doing mistakes. As far as you are aware and learn from your mistakes, it is an asset that completes your knowledge base and allows you to anticipate similar situations in future projects.

I remember a collaborator at a customer who was nearly 64 years old. As financial guy, he was computer literate and had among other things a high level of database management knowledge. But to reach such level of knowledge is not done overnight. It was the result of hours and hours of self-training and experimentation. He had probably a good salary as a senior, but how can we evaluate a salary if you don’t take into account the level of productivity and creativity. With his database knowledge, my colleague creates applications to do the job of one day in 30 minutes, and providing more information and more accurate.  So, when companies are looking for gains of productivity, is age the right criteria of people selection without considering experience and knowledge? I don’t think so.

Another example: few years ago, I met a woman during an entrepreneur week-end. When she went on retirement, she decided to do her first steps with computers and to discover internet.  After few time, she followed a special training in order to audit websites about their accessibility for people having problems of vision. She built a strong community on the web and is attending co-working places.  Here again, the acquired competences are not a question of age but a question of mind.

Of course, in a fast and ongoing changing world, seniors like youngest must question themselves.  Seniors who worked on several projects and assignments acquired a lot of experience. But what is important is the capacity to perceive the changes of the environment and to transpose their experience into a new context.  Experience does not mean that seniors reach a summit where they know everything and have answers to each challenge and problems.  Seniors have experience, and youngest people have new visions about the future of business, of society. What is interesting is the combination of senior experience and young people visions that can lead to creating innovative processes.

Seniors can be an asset for organization as long as they consider that age is not a criteria to stop to learn and to progress. They are an asset if they are aware about their potential and if they see changes as opportunities that can enrich their personal journey. They are also an asset if they share experience, knowledge and journey with juniors. Transmission is probably a key role they can play in favor of young generations. The conditions to value seniority are first that seniors themselves have always a project and don’t see age as a barrier, and secondly that their value is recognized as an asset. This implies a long term vision. As this African proverb says: “Along we go faster, together we go further”.


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Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 10, 2018 at 06:42

Let Us Save The Climate

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On Sunday, 2nd of December, there was a demonstration in Brussels in favor of the fight against climate change, Claim the Climate. This demonstration was a success, as more or less 65.000 people have participated to this demonstration. We can only be happy of such citizen mobilization. Such mobilization can be a motivation for people who wants contribute to build a cleaner world but who are not yet convinced about the actions to do. A demonstration is a good start, but now actions on a daily basis are the essential conditions to reach this objective.

There are many ways we can contribute to build a cleaner world. And the most important thing is to start with simple daily actions, even if at the individual level, it seems like little to the issue.  To start with simple actions is probably the best way to get closer to the goal, as change is not an easy process. We need to act step by step, letting us the time to change our internal software and to move to new habits. By acting on an incrementally way, we can increase our contribution to build a cleaner world.

Let us take a few examples. This morning, I was shopping on the Sunday market. A merchant where I am used to go asked me if I want a plastic bag to carry my purchases. I said no as I have a backpack. No need to waste a polluting plastic back. Ok, does one plastic bag make the difference? No, but if few millions of people or even a billion of people do the same, so that make the difference. It is a small action but you bring a contribution to a collective objective.

Another example:  I am member of a citizen group who founded a collective compost. This group counts around 50 families. The local authorities allocated us a space in one of the municipal parks. Each Sunday, a member of the group provides a permanent of 30 minutes, and people are bringing their household waste. The waste is weighed, what allowed me to see that in one year, I bring around 50 kilos of waste. In 2017, the whole collective recycled around 1,5 tons of waste.  Not so bad ! 1.5 tons of waste recycled in compost, contributing to feed the ground and that is an excellent CO2 sensor. The municipality multiplied the allocated spaces to the development of such initiatives that meet a certain success. I could not imagine when I join the initiative that I will contribute to recycle 50 kilos of waste, and that I will save a few garbage bags. Once again, imagine a few million, even a billion of people doing the same, that makes the difference.

ClaimTheClimate2Let us talk also about the mobility and the pollution generated by cars in the cities. First of all, the public authorities have to play a fundamental role in order to offer alternative transportation modes. For people living in the countryside, the possibilities to use alternative transport mode like train, bus, etc. are nearly non-existent. In the cities, there are alternatives, but not always efficient. Nevertheless, as already mentioned, change is not an easy process, and often, because we have prejudices about alternative modes usage.  Few times ago, I was fed up to lose time in traffic jams when I was going to work. I decided to use public transportation. As most of the time, I had a seat in the metro, I was thinking I could read a book during the path. After a few times I noticed that I did not really save time, but I did not lose time too, as I was busy to do something, by reading a book, what I could not do when driving my car. I realized that the time of the path was not the constraints, but the constraint was how can I use this time usefully.  I read around 15 books in 6 months in the public transportation. That change process is a success as I sold my car last month. By using public transportation mode, I reduced my annual mileage around 80%, and so, the possession of a car was no longer useful, as I have an alternative to use the car of one of my family member. Why this change was a success? It seems following neuroscience scientists that a positive emotion is associated to the things we like and we are used to do. This positive emotion is printed in the reptilian brain. It is only when we replaced that positive emotion by another one that the change process happens more easily. Here, in my case, the pleasure to be in my car listening to music was replaced by the pleasure to read books in the metro.  So, I reduced my ecological footprint and I would like to underline also the positive impact on my mobility budget.

Another track to contribute to a cleaner world: buy second hand stuff. Our economics system, mostly based on waste (buy, use and throw) is contributing negatively to the environment. Why to buy a news product when you can find second hand products still in good condition for a better price? The advantage of this is that you can save money and use it for other occasions. And use second hand stuff will not make you a less beautiful person.

Here was a range of tracks to contribute positively to our environment. Of course, everybody have different constraints and cannot contribute on the same way. People can contribute if they have alternatives. Another point is that a change process based on an obligation will fail most of the time.  People have to contribute if they have the possibility to do it but they need a real motivation.  As already mentioned, the most important is to start with small and simple actions. The fact to act and to try to reach the goal of environment protection will make an experience you can learn from and discover motivation sources and opportunities. The most important is that everybody contributes following his own possibilities. Even if their possibilities are low, when it is done by few million or even a billion of people, a small contribution is always useful.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 3, 2018 at 06:50