The End of Space and Time? by Robbert Dijkgraaf

Robbert Dijkgraaf's lecture, "The End of Space and Time?" at Gresham College, Tuesday, 20 March 2012 - 3:00pm Barnard’s Inn Hall. Internet resource at

Robbert Dijkgraaf’s lecture, “The End of Space and Time?” at Gresham College, Tuesday, 20 March 2012 – 3:00pm
Barnard’s Inn Hall. Internet resource at

Robbert Dijkgraaf’s lecture given at Gresham College in 2012 that focuses on string theory, quantum gravity, and the interface between mathematics and particle physics, bridges ideas from the various disciplines of science and arts, could be said to be have played a pivotal role in influencing the manner in which I saw the Individual in relation to space and time. Dijkgraaf takes on an evolutionary perspective to space and time, that are “near to their end”.

From the transcript of the lecture:
“If you go back in more recent history, for instance, Richard Feynman, the famous particle physicist, he has said that if you really do not know mathematics – and do not be worried, there will not be many equations today – but if you do not really know mathematics, you cannot get across the real feeling of the beauty of nature.”

“Not only did we have this unification of space and time but the next ingredient was that space, the stage, so to say, is not rigid, it is flexible, it can curve, it can shape, and it does so under the influence of energy and mass, and that is the phenomena that we call gravitation. So, anything that carries mass or energy will curve the space and time around and thereby space and time became no longer the stage, but an active player in the game. Space and time are something which has physical properties and a future in physical laws, and in fact, it is the influence of this curvature that describes the motion of particles under the influence of gravity.”
“I think the evolving universe, the Big Bang, is part of our culture, and in fact, these images and the discoveries that are made are getting more and more exact and precise. We are living in the age of precision cosmology,…”

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Conversation about status symbols over cinnamon infused apple crumble

A mixture of sweet and sour apples render
a nice balance to the flavour of this cinnamon infused creation.

Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

It was over a delicate apple crumble dessert served with whipped cream and cinnamon, in the plush setting of the Bar and Billiard Room at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, that the importance of the use of status symbols in Asia was explained to me as a series of unhappy events that a Nordic company experienced in its early years in Singapore, during the late 1990s.

Different views of what defines success

Asia and Scandinavia have different views of what defines success. They also have different ways of showing social / organizational affluence, a lack of understanding on either side on the effective use of such status symbols could well lead to an awkward situation of miscommunication, some small, others needing nothing less than a crisis management strategy.

Some ten years ago, part of how Nordic organizations expanded their operations was to send a core-team of top Scandinavian managers to oversee initial functions in Asia. Chances are, this modus operandi has not changed much since then. Continue reading “Conversation about status symbols over cinnamon infused apple crumble”

Malted oat cookies and the concept of Flow

Malted oat cookies.
Text and Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro 2013

Sunday afternoons are the perfect occasions for reflection and relaxation and my favourite occupation at such times is to bake something. Maybe to enjoy with the afternoon fika at home or maybe to share with my office colleagues by Monday depending on the amount of damage control needed to let the remainder look good.

Today my thoughts as always covered a wide circle, making pit stops at such seemingly disparate topics as the ASEAN countries free world trade negotiations, the ongoing election in Italy and the joint Volvo Geely research centre that is being planned, ongoing events that in part shape the world we are all living in.

The common denominator was the question of human innovation and motivation, as covered by Professor of innovation knowledge, Bengt Järrehult in a recent article. As I see it, nothing is given and we are all part of the process in which we all create the future together, step by step and by our own choices.
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Complex systems theory and the biological organization

An abstraction of Michael Conrad’s (1970) Biological Organization on Clare W. Graves’ (1980) Levels of Existence.
Text and Photo © CM Cordeiro 2013

In reading about self-organizing structures for the relevance of theory applied to the field of international business (IB), I thought the ideas expressed by Michael Conrad in his paper entitled, Statistical and Hierarchical Aspects of Biological Organization (made accessible via NASA) was interesting when also applied to the theoretical constructs of Clare W. Graves’ Levels of Existence.

Conrad discusses the differentiation and uncertainty associated with the organization and variability in a biological organization’s compartmental structures, that are expressed in terms of certain entropy measures. In his paper, he tries to ascertain the most efficient operative level of a biological system, landing on the principle of static equilibrium that he uses vector models for representation. Continue reading “Complex systems theory and the biological organization”

Lateralizing of influence between states as a means of preserving power

The evening’s contemplation… the opening paragraph of Joergen Oerstroem Moeller’s article, “Economic Integration: the Future for Asia” in the Diplomatist’ special issue published on the occasion of the ASEAN-India mid-December 2012 meeting in New Delhi.

His article addresses what in my view is the need for a heterarchous organizational structure in state / regional governance, as a system to manage heterochronous developments within and between states. Where and how heterarchy can be effectively accomplished and operationalizable is a discussion point.

Throughout his numerous articles, Moeller’s perspective is consistent – lateralization of decision-making may on the outset seem a dissipation of power, but in reality, it could be the only way to preserve power. What is perhaps needed is a re-conceptualization of ‘power’ in the contextual understanding and recognition that the world shares one destiny.

“Over the last half century economic transactions have jumped out of the nation-state box and take place globally, while the political systems put in place to control economic activities are still mainly national and domestic. This schism between international economic transactions and national political systems exposes the impotence of policy-making and thereby undermines the legitimacy of the political system in the eyes of the citizens. This spills over into skepticism about the advantages of economic globalization. The choice for politicians is to share decision-making with other nation-states or to lose influence, which is difficult to explain as it looks as giving away powers while in fact it is the only way to preserve power.” ~ J.O. Moeller, 2012.

Joergen Oerstroem Moeller is Senior Fellow, Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diplomatic Academy. He was former Danish Ambassador to Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Australia and New Zealand. He is also author to one of my favourite reads, How Asia Can Shape the World -From the Era of Plenty to the Era of Scarcities (2011, ref. video panel discussion of the book at SMU Singapore, chaired by Kishore Mahbubani).

Gödel’s theorem and executive education: reflections from the Chinese automobile industry’s strategy in talent management

Part of what makes being in academia so exciting for me is the very incompleteness of each project as expressed in Gödel’s theorem [1], here not referring strictly to its origins in mathematical logic of incomplete axiomatic systems, but rather used in a general linguistic sense of how research by definition, lies in a perpetual state of unfinish, the completion of which would warrant it redundant.

It is this continuous dialogic and dialectic process of thought, creativity and innovation of ideas, a journey that continuously reveals and uncovers what was previously obscure or even unknown that I find oddly comforting – finding familiarity in the unfamiliar, a constant in the flux of things.

As part of a collaborative publishing effort with friends from the IESE Business School in Barcelona from the International Faculty Program (IFP) of 2011, where colleague Peter Zackariasson was an editor, I contributed a chapter to the book entitled, New Perspectives in Management Education (Amann et al. eds, 2012) entitled “Chinese Wisdom. World Quality” Looking East for brand innovation and change management: reflections from a study on Geely automobile 2007-2011. It was a paper that reflected upon brand innovation and change managment in China’s Geely automobile from the years of 2007 to 2011.

It was also during this time that Geely acquired Volvo Cars from American Ford in 2010, landing China the single largest foreign acquisition, at the same time (McDonald 2010, Wang 2011) setting up several technological and knowledge platforms for China that lent support to the country’s efforts in the aggressive acquisition of knowledge in general.

Although American owned, Volvo Cars continued to carry a strong Swedish heritage in quality and branding where many of their engineers continue to sit in Sweden today. This meant that the acquisition of Volvo Cars by Geely was under sharp and curious observation both East and West, not in the least by Swedish academics and researchers from the disciplines of management science and international business (IB).

Having previously studied the Swedish management style in comparison to the Singapore Chinese management style (Cordeiro-Nilsson 2009), a hypothesis of mine with regard to Geely’s acquisition of Volvo Cars was that the strict vertical hierarchy and authoritarian leadership style of the Chinese might end up severely clashing with the more lateral, egalitarian and consensus seeking leadership style of top level Swedish management, even if under the steering of American Ford. It made interesting observation to see how these differences in management ideology of which one had its roots in centuries of authoritarian dynastic rule, compared to the more individualistic developments of the occidental cultures, might be construed and subsequently manoeuvred in a cross-cultural setting.

But two collectives of events took place with Geely’s acquisition of Volvo Cars that made the hypothesis redundant, the first was a change of Volvo Cars’ core executive management to a more global oriented team and the second, a juxtaposed strategy of old (going back to its scholastic roots) and new (a fairly hands-free approach to the acquisition) strategic concepts applied to the management of the enterprise taken by China with regards to its acquisition of Volvo Cars:

“I want to emphasize that Volvo is Volvo and Geely is Geely — Volvo will be run by Volvo management. We are determined to preserve the distinct identity of the Volvo brand.”
~ Li Shufu, Chairman of Geely (Bradsher, New York Times 2010)

That China realized its authoritarian rule over its western acquisition was not optimal led to it taking what could seem a radical move – autonomy to Volvo Cars to continue being, Volvo. It then turned towards its scholastic roots, to become ‘student’ in this aspect, observing business and management practices whilst at the same time, educating itself on various technological and knowledge platforms with the purpose of going beyond replication, of becoming forefront innovators themselves.

Where the theme of executive management education comes in is, with the support of the Chinese government, Geely had in 2000 set up Geely University with a mission to train individuals in the practical skills needed to build the company to its full potential of being a global player. By 2010, the company had an extensive talent management education program, offering in-house training and education opportunities in collaboration with Beijing University at all human resource levels from frontline factory workers to its top executive management teams that included doctors in research and development for Geely technology.

Today, the Beijing Geely University is one of China’s top ranked, largest private universities (Forbes 2010) that offers a range of subjects across disciplines from Humanities to Science and Engineering.

From the talent management strategies of multinational corporations then comes the question of the role of Business Schools in executive education – what lies ahead for business schools and executive management of the future? Where do Business Schools see themselves fit in and what / how can they meaningfully contribute to this changing demographics of the education of a workforce in a trend where business acumen is necessary but not a sufficient variable in the required range of skills of a workforce that needs to be trained across different levels of expertise?

Since management and organization is an applied science with theory and practice ideally combined in such a manner as to be practically applicable in the corporate world, such realities of executive education in multinational corporations could be argued to have put pressure on business schools in realization for a need to evolve with current corporate happenings and trends.

In the field of IB for example, while the call for a more interdisciplinary approach to the field has been going on for the past two decades, it is more so today that scholars are beginning to take that call seriously, seeding as it were, the beginnings of a review of the role of business schools and what perspectives they can offer for corporate practicalities in future that includes executive education. Continue reading “Gödel’s theorem and executive education: reflections from the Chinese automobile industry’s strategy in talent management”

When failure is success: a change of view in expatriate integration

The job of the expatriate in international job transfers is hardly an easy transition. Most Scandinavian expatriate contracts in Singapore for example average 3 years, during which time, the employees, usually at managerial level, are supposed to make adjustments along several dimensions, both in the private and public domains.

International managers not only need to adjust to a new home, perhaps a new language, and new schools for the children if the family is in tow, but they are also expected to adjust into the new role within the organization and perform on the job.

If the ballpark figure is given at about a year to adjust to a foreign environment, then 3 years for the average expatriate contract, isn’t much time given to get things working smoothly, since as soon as you begin to feel comfortable in the new environment, it’s time to go home. Going home is not also always smooth sailing since you’re perhaps faced with a host of re-acculturation issues due to that you have gained new knowledge from the new environment and now cannot help but apply that new knowledge back home.

During the 1960s and up until about ten years ago, the majority body of literature that governed relocation and expatriate managers’ experience overseas equated their transition success with how far they’ve come to be integrated with the host country’s culture (Black, 1988; Janssens, 1995)

In speaking with Scandinavian respondents about their experience in socializing with Singaporeans, many of them mentioned that they felt marginalized and not at all integrated into the Singapore society. It didn’t seem to matter whether they were there for three years or in some cases, fifteen to twenty-six years. Disheartened and feeling not quite successful in the aspect of cross-cultural socializing, many said they felt ‘outside’ of the local system, some even mentioning that they felt more ‘Swedish’ or ‘Danish’ when they were in Asia, than when they were back in Scandinavia.

When it came to cross-cultural socializing, the organizations had office functions and staff dinner and dances, which they found a perfect opportunity to mingle with the locals, but apart from such events, they found themselves rarely socializing with the locals.
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