Aandehul

About a month ago, I mentioned to my friend, Betty Toole, that I was going to Copenhagen, and she suggested that I touch base with her friend, Soren Riis, a lifetime resident of the area. Soren and I met up on Saturday, August 19, and he gave me an amazing walking tour of Copenhagen. He’s a teacher by trade, he’s very well traveled, and he is completely in love with his native land. The way he talked about Copenhagen reminded me very much of how I feel about California.    (L4G)

We walked for about five hours with Soren feeding me detailed accounts of the history and architecture of the city intermixed with personal anecdotes. For those of you who know nothing of Danish history, let me just say this: Christian IV is very important in Denmark.    (L4H)

The highlight of our tour was the Royal Library Garden, which is nestled between the Royal Library and the Parliament building. Copenhagen is a bustling town, full of pedestrians, bikers, and even the occasional car. It is physically small, easily walkable, and while it’s not hectic, it’s not quiet either. We had already walked for several hours, and as we neared the Parliament building, Soren proposed that we visit his namesake, Mr. Kierkegaard.    (L4I)

Parliament is currently out of session, and there was loud construction going on behind the building. We walked past the noise, slipped into a courtyard, and suddenly, I was transported out of the city and into this beautiful, private garden.    (L4J)

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Literally five seconds earlier, my ears were hurting from sounds of large trucks hauling asphalt. In the garden, I heard nothing but the water trickling from a large fountain and birds chirping softly and contentedly. The back of the Royal Library stood guard over a large grassy courtyard, with pockets of colorful flowers dotting the garden and the occasional tree providing shade for the weary visitor. Although there were others milling around the garden, they were irrelevant. I stopped, looked around, and breathed in the sweet air.    (L4L)

Aandehul,” said Soren. “It literally means ‘hole to breathe in.’ There are lots of spaces like this in Copenhagen. This is one of the best.”    (L4M)

Christopher Alexander describes the patterns found in these spaces as Courtyards Which Live, Quiet Backs, and Positive Outdoor Space. I had seen similar spaces like this the day before — buildings surrounding serene Courtyards Which Live, parks enclosed from the rest of the city. They are wonderful, rarely found in cities in the States, and the Royal Library Garden is the best of the aandehul.    (L4N)

These kinds of spaces play an important role in Martin Heidegger‘s work, where he describes walks through the forest suddenly leading into these open spaces surrounded by trees. It is in these spaces, according to Heidegger, where we become fully aware of ourselves — Dasein.    (L4O)

Epilogue    (L4P)

The following day, I was describing my experience at the Royal Library Garden to Alexander Kjerulf, who had never been there, and I mentioned “aandehul.” Upon hearing the word, he gave a start, then laughed. While metaphorically accurate, the word is also used to describe a whale’s spout.    (L4Q)

An Evening with Danish Bloggers

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You can’t truly know another country until you know its food and its people. Thanks to Thomas Madsen Mygdal, I had a chance to do both last Friday in Copenhagen. Many thanks to all of you who came (14 in all!) and shared your stories and good vibes (and restaurant recommendations). Evan Prodromou teased me later about having a Danish posse. Well, you all can consider me part of your American posse.    (L3J)

I arrived in Denmark two weeks ago knowing almost nothing about the country, much less the goings-on there related to my professional world (other than Reboot). I left a week later, not only personally and culturally enriched, but also professionally enriched. There is a lot of interesting thinking going on in Denmark, and while the startup culture is not as active as it is in San Francisco or even other European countries, the desire to do with the group I met was very strong. That’s not always the case at these blogger meetups (which is why I generally avoid them, at least here at home.)    (L3K)

The evening began casually (other than a minor mixup over the meeting place) with drinks at the Barbar Bar in Vesterbro. We then walked over to Carlton for an excellent dinner. I had told myself beforehand that I wasn’t going to stay out too late, but I was enjoying myself too much. The whole group shifted to Joachim Oschlag‘s place (which was conveniently just upstairs from the restaurant) for more beer and conversation. It was hyggeligt!    (L3L)

Ah yes, hyggeligt. Hygge is a Danish word for… well, apparently, it’s hard to translate, and I’m not sure I fully grasp it. According to the English Wikipedia, hygge is equivalent to the German word, Gemuetlichkeit. Hygge denotes a sense of intimacy and closeness, and is often used to describe gatherings of people, where you share a sense of familiarity and fun with those around you. Think “hug,” but not as wishy-washy. It’s a sense of wholeness that comes from being around others, and there’s a strong association with the space that helps create this wholeness. You can see why I like this word. The notion of hygge resonates strongly with community, and I would argue that it’s a common pattern in High-Performance Collaboration as well as another aspect of Quality Without A Name.    (L3M)

I’ve got pictures of the gathering buried in my Copenhagen Flickr set. Michael Andersen also posted some pictures as well as a blog entry.    (L3N)

I can’t possibly do justice to all of the conversations I had that night, but here are some highlights:    (L3O)

Reboot and Open Space    (L3P)

A lot of these folks were intimately familiar with Open Space. A few of them knew Gerard Muller, founder of the Danish Open Space Institute and co-facilitator of the Open Space at WikiSym with Ted Ernst. Thomas had tried incorporating Open Space into Reboot a few years back, and it apparently did not work well. We talked a lot about success patterns in group process, especially hybrid processes.    (L3Q)

One of the biggest challenges with network as opposed to organizational events, where your participants feel compelled rather than obligated to attend, is getting people there in the first place. Most people interpret “emergent agenda” as “no agenda,” and they treat such events as networking rather than learning events. This is exacerbated by the length of the event, which is optimally three days for emergent group processes. (See Michael Herman‘s Two Night Rule. I’m starting to realize that many people — even those who are very good at group process — are unaware of the forces underlying the Two Night Rule, and it affects the design process.)    (L3R)

Framing the invitation is a critical component for circumventing this challenge, but it’s not easy. I urged Thomas and the others not to give up on more interactive processes, and suggested as a possible framing question for an event, “What could we accomplish together in three days?” I proposed linking such a Danish event with a similar one here in the States, perhaps associated with our “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” workshops.    (L3S)

Semco SA    (L3T)

Several people told me the story of the Brazilian company, Semco SA, and its CEO, Ricardo Semler. Semco is a remarkable study in decentralized, emergent organization. It’s a relatively large company, with over $200 million in revenue and 3,000 employees, and it’s aggressively decentralized and transparent. Employees set their own hours and salaries. Workers evaluate their bosses, and they regularly mix with others, regardless of projects, thus developing multiple skills as well as a greater appreciation for the many roles that are required to make an organization tick. It’s really an amazing story. Semler has written two books, Maverick and The Seven Day Weekend, both of which I plan to read.    (L3U)

I did some followup research, and I was surprised to see how widely known the Semco story seems to be. I follow this space closely, and I also did a considerable amount of research on Brazil for my Brazilian Open Source adoption study published in May 2005, but this was the first I had heard of the company or of its CEO. It’s yet another example of the group being smarter than the individual.    (L3V)

Knowing What We Should Know    (L3W)

Speaking of which, I chatted quite a bit with Raymond Kristiansen, a vlogger, about how to get more people aware of the stories they should be aware of. It’s a very difficult question. On the one hand, the notion of Collective Wisdom does not mean that every individual needs to know everything. On the other hand, it does imply that we should be able to quickly learn what we need to know when we need to know it.    (L3X)

We talked about the Featured Content pattern as a way of trickling up useful content. It’s an especially important pattern with blogs, which are great for tracking conversations, but — like Mailing Lists and forums — tend to obscure older, but still relevant content.    (L3Y)

On a related note, Raymond also kicked my butt about not creating screencasts. I promised Raymond that I’d have my first screencast up before the end of September. There, it’s in writing now.    (L3Z)

Alexander Kjerulf    (L40)

I’m a little reluctant to single Alexander out, because I walked away profoundly affected and impressed by many people. Nevertheless, he and his blog, The Chief Happiness Officer, get special mention (not that he needs it; his blog is far more popular than mine!) and soon, a blog post devoted entirely to our conversations for two very important reasons. First, he recommended a number of excellent restaurants in Copenhagen, and we ended up eating at two of those together.    (L41)

Second, every time we chatted, I found myself scurrying for my pen and notecards. It will take me three freakin’ years to follow-up with all of his stories and ideas, generated over maybe 12 hours of conversation. I plan on trying anyway, because there was a very high degree of relevance and profundity in everything he said. He is a plethora of ideas, knowledge, and — as his title implies — positive energy. I urge all of you to check out his blog, and to make an effort to meet him if you’re ever in Denmark.    (L42)

People Encounters in Copenhagen

Last Friday, mostly recovered from my jetlag, I set out to explore Copenhagen in earnest. I began my day walking up Norrebrogade towards Assitens Kirkegaard, a public cemetery and park where Soren Kierkegaard, Hans Christian Andersen, and Neils Bohr are buried. All along Norrebrogade were small ethnic shops and places to eat.    (L33)

I slowly ambled up the street, watching the other pedestrians go about their business, stopping often to window gaze. There were a number of Middle Eastern butcher-shops, and I stopped and stared at one of them. (What can I say? I love meat.) A few minutes later, I broke out of my trance and noticed a mother and her toddler son standing outside of the shop, seemingly waiting for someone. The mother was dressed in Muslim garb, with a long black dress and a striped head-scarf. The boy was watching me, and when our eyes met, he smiled. I smiled back and waved, then looked at the mother, who also smiled.    (L34)

The next day, Soren Riis, a friend of a friend, took me on a fantastic walking tour of Copenhagen. Towards the end of the day, we came across a young woman on a bike, who stopped to let us cross the street. I looked at her and smiled, and she smiled back. Soren saw the brief exchange, and quoted another great Dane, Victor Borge: “The shortest distance between two people is a smile.” Thinking back to my encounter with the woman and her son, I decided on a corollary: If you can be smiled at by a young child and not feel your mood instantly buoyed, you are either not human or are severely emotionally repressed.    (L35)

I was so enjoying my walk through Norrebro, I decided to walk past Assitens Kirkegaard and further explore the neighborhood. I finally circled back on Hillerodgade and started walking through Norrebroparken, a peaceful haven away from the hustle and bustle of the main street. I saw some magpies in the park and stopped to take some pictures. I had never seen a magpie before, and I wasn’t sure what they were at the time. As I concentrated on the near impossible task of getting a good picture of these birds on my pocket camera, I failed to notice a scruffy, older man approaching me. It was just after 11am, the park was mostly empty and enclosed on all sides, and he reeked of beer.    (L36)

“Oh,” he said, “You can see the picture on your camera!”    (L37)

I looked up and instantly tensed, but maintained my cool. “That’s right,” I responded, “this is a digital camera.”    (L38)

“Remarkable!” he exclaimed. “And you’re taking a picture of our jacktals. Are you just walking around exploring then?”    (L39)

“Yes,” I responded. “Copenhagen is a beautiful city.” I smiled when I said it, and the smile was real, but strained, bearing little resemblance to the easy, buoyant smile that had appeared on my face a few hours earlier. The old man said goodbye, then continued on his way. I felt a small pang of guilt. He had been pleasant and looked no scruffier than I often do walking around San Francisco, yet I had braced myself for the worst. Yes, he had beer on his breath, but this was Copenhagen, where everyone drank openly on the streets. I pride myself on my openness towards others, and when I meet strangers, I’m willing to assume that they are trustworthy, good people barring any evidence to the contrary. Then again, I also pride myself on my street smarts.    (L3A)

I quickly shook off the guilt. I looked back at the man, who had walked away as quickly as he had appeared, took a few more pictures of the birds, then continued my exploration of the city.    (L3B)

Denmark Assessment: What a Week

Damn. I’ve been back in the States for a little over 24 hours, and my body is still in pain. My Copenhagen trip last week started off great. It was mellow, I was walking around, exploring a new country, a new city, living in the moment while digesting my new surroundings. Then I started to meet people, passionate people full of energy, enthusiasm, and goodwill. You spend a few hours with these folks, and they blow your mind.    (L2Y)

That’s how it all started. The brain, which I had previously set to passive mode, kicked into active gear. Then WikiSym happened, and for three days and nights, I was constantly surrounded by another group of brilliant, passionate people. The brain kept consuming, and when the little safety valve in the back of my head told me to slow down, the brain kicked that valve shut and kept cranking. After dinner on the last night, slowed by a newly acquired cold and a week of little sleep, my body told me to shut it down. My brain just laughed. “You’ll be traveling for almost 20 hours tomorrow. Suck it up.”    (L2Z)

So I sucked it up. Went out for beers with a large group of people, closed down the bar, then headed to the hotel casino with the remnants of the group for a fresh batch of conversation. Shut down the casino too, and finally went to bed. A few hours later, I was on a train back to Copenhagen, and 24 hours later, I was back in San Francisco.    (L30)

Back in the day, I used to flaunt my endurance. Late night bull session? A mere jog in the park. All night work session? If the work was interesting, I’d gladly go two. Back in the day, I could back it up. Now, not so much. But old habits die hard, and now I’m paying the price. I’m suffering from severe jet lag, the cold has kicked into second gear, and I now have a stack of new information and experiences to digest into knowledge, in addition to the piles of work that were already waiting for me when I returned home.    (L31)

And you know what? I don’t regret it one damn bit. I had an outstanding time in Denmark. I saw many old friends, and made many new ones. My mind is churning with ideas, and I got a lot of work done. Sure, I could have stopped and smelled the roses a bit more than I did, but the roses are still around, and I’m smelling them now. Sadly, my body finally beat my bravado, and I’m missing the one year anniversary of Bar Camp this weekend, but it’s a fair tradeoff. Besides, that’s what the Wiki is for.    (L32)

My Danish Adventures, Day 1

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I arrived in Copenhagen today, a few hours late thanks to a caterers’ strike, which forced the plane coming to pick us up to stop first in Oslo for food. International travel never seems to be smooth, and that’s not even accounting for the terrorist scare.    (L2A)

The craziness started this morning (or rather, yesterday morning). My shuttle was supposed to pick me up at 5am, but at 4:20am, the dispatcher called me and reminded me to be ready in 15 minutes. I had just gotten out of the shower after a whole hour of sleep, and I responded drowsily, “You mean 5am.”    (L2B)

“No, 4:45am.”    (L2C)

After complaining for a few moments about the miscommunication (definitely their fault), I said no problem. After all, I was up, although it was a good thing I had decided to set my alarm for 4am and not 4:30am. I was out the door by 4:35am, just in time to see the shuttle pull up even earlier than expected.    (L2D)

My flight to Dulles was uneventful, and my delayed connecting flight to Copenhagen was a blessing in disguise, as it gave me more time to adjust my internal time clock. I fell asleep as soon as I got on the plane and got another three hours in before waking up at 6:30am Denmark time. My flight arrived at 10am.    (L2E)

Scandinavian Airlines is an excellent airline. The lady at the counter was friendly, professional, and apologetic for the delay, and she gave us all food vouchers, even though the delay wasn’t too bad. The plane was relatively spacious, and the seats had individual screens with a selection of movies and views of cameras attached to the bottom and front of the plane. There were also bottles of water in each seat, a welcome amenity given the recent ban of carry-on liquids. It may seem like an obvious thing to do, but United didn’t do it, and I’m willing to bet that most of the other major U.S. airlines don’t either. Its terminal at the Copenhagen airport even had these beautiful hardwood floors. (I’ll remember to take a picture when I return.)    (L2F)

I bought a calling card from CallingCards.com prior to leaving, but I couldn’t figure out how to dial the local access number, and the woman at the airport couldn’t figure it out either. Phone numbers are the next great frontier for standardization. We’ve got international standards for email and the Web, but I can’t figure out how to make a damn phone call in a cosmopolitan European city.    (L2G)

I’m staying at the Ibsens Hotel in Norrebro, historically the working class district of Copenhagen, but on the verge of gentrification today. The hotel itself is nice with helpful service at the front desk and free WiFi (in theory). However, I’ve only managed to find decent connectivity in one tiny nook near the hotel lobby. I get zero access in my room, which is a pain in the rear.    (L2H)

My room wasn’t ready when I arrived, so I slipped away to nearby cafe, Cafe og Ol-Halle for lunch. The cafe is a former workers’ bar dating back to 1892, with a cozy interior. “Cozy” seems to be a good word to describe a lot of the local eateries and cafes. I had three kinds of smorrebrod and a Carlsberg pilsner. I was a bit disappointed by the smorrebrod. They tasted fine, and I had to try them, since they’re a Danish staple, but I saw other patrons eating dishes that looked much tastier.    (L2I)

On the way back to the hotel, I passed Israels Plads, a local park. There was a large asphalt playground with kids playing basketball and soccer, and several stalls selling flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Near the park was a church, Bethesda, that advertised free Danish classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I saw that and thought to myself, “Excellent, I’ll stop by and learn a bit of Danish.” Sadly, it was not to be. When I returned to the hotel, jet lag and the lunchtime beer caught up to me, and I fell asleep while researching dinner options. That’s right, I was figuring out my dinner plans right after eating lunch. What can I say? I like food.    (L2J)

I forced myself to wake up after a few hours, took a shower, bought some toothpaste (currently banned from planes) and brushed my teeth, then set off for Galathea Kroen dinner. “Galathea” is the name of several Danish boats that have pursued long scientific expeditions over the past 150 years. My pocket guidebook claimed that the cafe served Indonesian food, but they only had Malaysian food and Danish meatballs. I had the meatballs, which were quite good, and another ubiquitous Carlsberg pilsner.    (L2K)

Copenhagen is eminently walkable, and it has this wonderful medieval quality. The city has this very old quality, but it’s vibrant and alive at the same time. It’s unlike any other city I’ve been to. Bikes and pedestrians own the road, with plenty of carless roads. Curiously, less than half the parked bikes I saw were locked. Walking to dinner, I passed Copenhagen University, the Nationalmuseet, the Christiansborg Slot, and other old buildings and squares. Although there are over a million people living here, it has a small-town feel, which I like.    (L2L)

Copenhagen is super liberal, moreso than San Francisco. According to my guidebook, Denmark legalized same-sex marriages in 1989. According to this week’s The Copenhagen Post, Denmark has been the world leader in foreign aid for three years running. Convenience stores have a revenue cap. If they exceed it, they have to cut back their hours. This prevents large chains from obliterating independent markets. I appreciate the spirit, but the means offends my conservative-leaning economic sensibilities.    (L2M)

Yet for all its progressive politics, Copenhagen feels very proper. People in San Francisco are wacky. We dress all sorts of ways (or not at all), homebrew bikes and Segways are ubiquitous, and there’s always a protest happening somewhere. People here just quietly go about their business. I wouldn’t have guessed the area’s political leanings had I not read about them beforehand.    (L2N)

Tomorrow, I’m going to pay my respects to Soren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen at Assitens Kirkegaard, and then I’m going to cover as much of the city by foot as possible. In the evening, I’ve got the Danish bloggers meetup. I may skip Tivoli entirely on this trip — it feels too touristy — but if I go, I’ll go on Saturday night, when they have a “toy soldier parade.” It’s also supposed to be beautiful there in the evenings.    (L2O)