Monday, September 27, 2010

Clarity in the desert....or is it a mirage?


After arriving at DXB Sat AM, my friend Lee and I retreated into the Dubai desert for some R&R and some hoped-for clarity on next steps, professionally speaking.

Oddly, after all these months of commuting here once a month, I hadn't actually been to THE desert, even though I suppose officially Dubai the city is already in the desert. Dubai in the desert is like Las Vegas in the desert---it's hot and dry etc. But if you want to see the real thing-- meaning the real no-thing -- you have to drive about 20-30 km out of town. When we saw our first 'yield to camels' roadsign, I was sure we had arrived.

I could have used another 2-3 days of staring out at the emptiness from the spa resort's infinity pool. But there was work to be done back in town this week, so we settled for a day trip and drove back along a lonely two-lane highway after dark.

The newspaper team is less than 72 hours now from the live launch. Dummy runs have been executed each day for the last week and by gosh the paper looks great. Will look even better as the advertisers come on board in a few days. Funny how a dummy paper without ads looks so peculiar. No, not peculiar... just sad. :)

One important bit of clarity that I have about the professional future is that leading and managing are much more satisfying than advising. The thrill of pure consulting has long since gone. I am at my best when in a group, working with colleagues or employees on the challenges of starting and/or running businesses. I prefer to mentor, lead, or coach than to advise and move on. Learned huge lessons about this from Lowell S at PlanetOut.

Have been revisiting my professional trajectory these past weeks, finding many satisfactions and admittedly some disappointments. The controversy swirling around my old boss Marty Peretz at The New Republic brings me back to the earliest years of my career. Marty took the unusual gamble of putting the business reins of a leading national political magazine in the hands of this wet-behind-the-ears 27 year old. And thereby changed my life forever--and mostly for the good.

No desire to condemn the man, because his life's work is worthy of applause and recognition. However, his blind spots and views about Israel and its intersection with the Muslim world have caused grief among readers, supporters, and the political and academic elites. I don't share his views about Muslims though I do share his concerns about fanaticisms-- and these are of course not confined to Muslims or any other peoples or nations. Including ours.

In Dubai, where the convergence of over a hundred nationalities has resulted in no melting pot, it's tempting, like Marty does, to paint broad brush judgments about national character. Yes, 'they' are not like 'us', but the attempt to posit a hierarchy of peoples and lifestyles always fails the test of the particularities. Too many exceptions to the rules out here.

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