Crimes and Misdemeanours in Athens

I’m sitting by my hotel window at the St George Lycabettus Hotel in Athens, with the most glorious view of the city, with the Acropolis at centre stage bathed in that flat morning sun, the mountains sloping down to the sea on the right, and Piraeus and the Aegean behind. The picture below taken with my poor mobile phone does scant justice to it, but is probably better than nothing. A crime and two misdemeanours have been committed.

The crime is that I’ve been here since Wednesday evening and this morning was my first glance out of the window. In fact, I’ve hardly been out of the hotel. Work should NEVER take priority over glory (or health, or family, or relationships, or sanity, or… ). It’s still January, so there is still room for resolution.

At least one of the misdemeanours probably contributed to the crime. I’m here to deliver a workshop for a client to launch a new toolkit on a dimension of their work which is to be piloted in a number of countries in Europe and Asia. We developed the toolkit for them, it consists of a guiding framework, guidelines, templates, self-assessment tools, and lots of intranet based supporting resources. The misdemeanours really relate to our complicity in rushing this project through on over-ambitious timelines, with inadequate background work and preparation, and lots of assumptions about how the toolkit will be used. The same goes for this workshop. I arrived here to find that several of the critical components, people, and activities I had planned to make this workshop a success, were simply not available. We winged it. Most of the time I was thinking on my feet, which is ok, but I really only enjoy improvising when I have solid preparation behind me and a sense of different options that I can call into play. This one was a bit too close to the edge, and as I say, accounts for why I did not look out of the window till now, the day after we finished.

The workshop went well, and in a slightly euphoric self-congratulatory mode last night, I caught myself taking credit. Thinking back over other experiences with this client, I realised that it might not have gone well at all, because we had precious little support in place for the participants. Had they been less confident, more nervous, or more uncommitted, it would not have gone well at all. I realised that that’s what good planning, preparation, process and structure do – they compensate for weaknesses or variation in the human systems. They can also be positioned to identify and leverage strengths when they occur. The only reason the workshop went well this past few days was because of the participants, who worked extremely hard to get what they needed out of it, discovered and leveraged what each of us had to give, and collaborated very very well in figuring out their next steps and the support structure they required.

The misdemeanour was, of course, that we were not well prepared. We tried to do too much too quickly. We stretched ourselves too thin. We winged it. This misdemeanour becomes a crime when it’s a repeat offence. When we are constantly winging it. When we never have the good sense to pause and look out of a window at a glorious view. When we don’t slow down enough to make sure we do a good job. Because no matter how good we are, or the people we rely on, sooner or later we’ll come a cropper. We’ll make a mistake. It won’t work out.

There’s another misdemeanour going on all around me. The St George is a lovely hotel. The service is great and the views are stunning. But it has some peculiarities. It’s styled itself as a “boutique” hotel, which seems to mean that everything has to look odd. Design over function. I catch myself several times a day trying to figure out how simple things like toilet flushes and coffee pots work. Things are not in their recognisable shapes and places, so I find myself looking for things that are under my nose. And it seems to me that this obsession with the visual peculiarity of everything has not just distracted the designers (and the hotel as a buyer) from the function of the object – it’s also distracted them from the quality and durability of the materials. The “boutique” remodelling, if the brochures are correct is really quite recent, but the fabric on the throne-like chairs in the breakfast room is already starting to look grimy and shabby. The odd-shaped napkins are fraying at the edges. The triangular plates in primary colours are looking dishwasher-scratched. The plastic of the neon coat hangers is cracking.

This misdemeanour too is a function of the “thinness” of what we do. We do things to get things done, check off the item on today’s check list. We pay attention to what needs to be done today. So long as it works today, looks good today, we go ahead with it. And then move on. We have stopped thinking about being sustainable – sustainable in ourselves and our ability to deliver, and sustainability in the things we put together and the systems we create. Designing not just for looking good, but also for practical use, today and in the future.

And the Acropolis, gleaming in the sun as indifferently and casually as it has for the past two and a half thousand years, is a stern reminder of this ability to build for the future. If only we’d look.

3 Comments so far

Greg Timbrell

Hi Patrick

Today we revere the Parthenon but this was not always the case with peoples past.  It was used as an ammunition store by the Turks in the 17th century and was subsequently bombed by the Venetians during the siege of Athens, blowing off its roof and destroying a great part of the structure.

This is just a quick (structurational)thought to ask whether the building is more important than our deeply held social value of regard for ancient architecture?


Posted on January 22, 2007 at 12:18 PM | Comment permalink


Hi Patrick,

The sources not availlabele there seems normal for me, actually I would say some culture shock there?! But very good job there, good story! Without the active participation of People very very difficult to end with success!
Greez from Sao Paulo, Cino

Posted on January 22, 2007 at 07:05 PM | Comment permalink


Thanks Greg and Cino… for Greg, I think it would be a great idea to build a KM initiative that was capable of surviving Ottoman invasion and getting its head blown off by Venetians smile You’d have to see the view on that morning and the earthworm like panic that preceded it to understand that this wasn’t a cultural thing at all in this instance smile

And thanks for the reminder about ‘normalcy’ Cino!

Posted on January 23, 2007 at 10:40 AM | Comment permalink

Page 1 of 1 pages

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.

Comment Guidelines: Basic XHTML is allowed (<strong>, <em>, <a>) Line breaks and paragraphs are automatically generated. URLs are automatically converted into links.