Irkutsk, Siberia

Irkutsk is a small town by Russian standards: 585,000 inhabitants. Yet it is a major city for Siberia.

Major companies headquartered in Moscow have their production facilities here: aircraft manufacturing, aluminum production, etc. The city of Irkustk, however, is vulnerable. If any of the five major employers chooses to close shop, the city will suffer.

Young people know this, so anyone who can leave leaves.

The city has a major university and a business school with joint programs with University of Maryland and the University of Queensland, Australia. The programs are in English and some graduates chose to move abroad.

I asked why the city authorities do not do whatever it takes to build local businesses for the sustainability of the city.

The answer was that Moscow central government controls it all and there is nothing they themselves can do.

This feeling of disempowerment reappears in many forms: in companies and now in cities.

I love small cities in Russia. This is the second small city I have been to in Russia, Novosibirsk being the previous one. The common denominator? People are warm, hospitable. The pace is slow and thus enjoyable. I really do not like Moscow, with its traffic jams and hurried people. Everything there is expensive and you can feel how everyone is running breathlessly after the ruble, the local currency.

Irkutsk is a forty-minute drive from Lake Baikal, the deepest sweet water lake in the world: a mile deep. It contains twenty percent of the world’s fresh water. It is so clean you can drink the water right out of the lake.

“Why not export it?” I asked, like the Fiji water or Icelandic water we drink in the USA?

Distance and transportation costs are prohibitive, was the answer.

What about fishery?

Not many fish in the lake. It’s too cold.

Irkutsk was built for and by political exiles that were “sent to Siberia.”

“Can I see a camp from that time?” I asked my hosts. “Have you kept any for memory?”

“No,” they answered. They had absolutely nothing to show.

“Do you have a museum about that period?” I wondered.

“No.”

“Were your parents born in Irkutsk?”

“Yes.”

“Grandparents?”

“They came from Belorussia.”

“Why would they go to Siberia?” I asked.

“They never wanted to talk about it.”

The Gulags and the Stalinist era are swept under the rug, as if the country is in denial.

October 30th is the day of the political prisoners, the day to remember the millions who perished in Siberia. There is nothing special planned for that day. It is like a missing page in the history books.

Chennai, India

It used to be called Madras, which was the British name for the city, Chennai shortened from the longer, Indian name for the area. The city has beautiful beaches, and one of the longest in the world.

What I found interesting is that India is the opposite of the West in terms of behavior and focus. In the West we are “beautiful” on the outside but falling apart in the inside. Beautiful cars, homes, and clean impressive boulevards on one hand; depression and psychotherapy growing by leaps and bounds on the other hand.

Indians devote time and focus on the inside—yoga, meditation, spirituality—as they ignore the outside. The streets are dirty. Garbage is everywhere. Run down houses are everywhere you look. Even in the five-star hotel where I am staying, I notice that maintenance is not a priority.

The people are loving, giving, charming, almost childish in their purity, but their cities…very depressing….

What is very unique to India is the multitude of people.

It is difficult to describe how many people are walking and standing on the street on a normal day. The closest comparison in the West would be the crowds that congregate for a major demonstration or to watch a parade.

People, people, thousands everywhere.

You notice it in restaurants, too. They have lots of cheap labor. One person takes the order, another one serves it. A third one asks you how you like it, a fourth brings the bill, and a fifth one accompanies you to the door.

Another characteristic of India is the traffic. Narrow roads, potholes, one next to the other. Thousands of small cars passing on the left, on the right, crossing unexpectedly in between, motorcycles buzzing, passing, honking everywhere. Cows stand in the middle of the road unperturbed by all the commotion.

I find it stressful. In any other country I know there would be lots of collisions and road rage. In India, I see only smiles. Nobody is angry. The honking is not to urge someone to move faster or let you pass. It is only to warn the others of your presence. People accommodate each other. Drivers do not compete for the road, or over who will dominate or be first.  They are always smiling.

I am here to meditate. I am having lots of insights, which will be presented in separate blogs. It is an enormous learning experience.

I have resolved major strategic problems I have struggled with by just NOT thinking. Just being open and listening to nothing.

I also came across an organization that followed what I prescribed in my book on managing corporate lifecycles to be the shortcut to Prime. The theory explained how it should be done, but I have not found an organization that employed it until I got to India.

All of that calls for a separate, full-blown blog in the future.

I love my work: see, experience and always learn something new.

In my previous blog on Bosnia I have made some of my readers there upset with me.

The blog is not research based. It does not claim to be anything more than insights that may stimulate some thinking and learning.

So, if this blog now offends anyone from India, please accept my apologies in advance and please communicate your corrections for all of us to learn.

Thank you.