Judgment Day !

Today was my first trip to Court, and like any new experience, it has been an interesting one !

Part of my new job assignment is the one of representation. Therefore I had to be present in Court for a traditionally French conciliation board case (Prud’hommes as we call it here). Whenever an employee gets laid off in France, there is a high amount of chances that he’ll go to Court in order to get more (or in some cases just get some) indemnities.
Back to the present day, I had to represent my company for a case against an employee who was let go 2 years ago. I was there mostly because my boss could not attend… Otherwise I would have appreciated to take that trip at a later time in my introduction to this part of the job 😉

The court is located in a beautiful building of Montpellier. Don’t worry, the picture is the front entrance, and as often the actual entrance is in the back, a far less impressive one, but a really nice building indeed. The room where the audience is being held is kind of what you would expect. A series of benches, a fence to separate the audience from the actual court, another bench for the attorneys who are turning their back to the public, and finally the large slightly elevated desk with all the judges behind it (and so facing the public). There are actually four judges with two assistants. This is kind of what it actually looks like :

The afternoon (for those who think it’s an all-day event … think again) starts with the assistant listing all the cases to be pleaded during the sitting, to see whether all the parties are present and ready to plead, or whether they wish to postpone it for various reasons. These reason include things like documents not being exchanged between parties in time, attorneys being excused, or simply not enough time to prepare for the plea (yes it’s apparently a valid reason). Following this first 15 minutes, the jury leaves to discuss about these requests for postponements.

When the jury comes back, they accept or deny the previously asked requests. That day all the requests where granted, and most of them postponed to January 2009 !!! No wonder that it takes forever for the judgments to be held !
Then the actual pleas for the cases can begin. All of them are held in the same way. The first party (the one requesting the judgment, so the employee) exposes the situation to the jury, highlighting the key points that he thinks will lead the jury in his direction, that is mostly the reasons why the company did no give the employee enough money. Then the defending party exposes it’s point of view, again pointing out why the preceding expose is incorrect and why the employee was being let go for the good reasons and respecting the laws/contracts in application at the time of the situation. Here is a little details of the arguments that where exposed that day

The first case was an employee against a very large sports equipment reseller who was assigned to manage a store in Hungary, as well as open new stores allover the country, and finally being let go in 2006 with aggravating charges.
From the employee point of view, he was suffering from a much elevated dose of work (fatigue, stress, surmenage, …) resulting in a high level of fatigue and leading to a doctor giving him a leave for sickness certificate. Moreover the company was not paying insurances for unemployment (Assedic) because the person was abroad. As a result the employee now back in France cannot have unemployment compensations. He asked for about 150k€ in compensation for this situation.
From the defending party, the employee did not justify he’s leave, and was in fact trying to create a new company. He’s leave was in fact justified after his return in the company, and the documents to justify the leave for sickness where not dated. For a manager of this level, not justifying his leave, and not making sure that the stores would run correctly was the key to him being let go. About the insurances problem, the company was actually paying them in Hungary as they should have, for the French part the company needed a procuration that the employee had to give. They asked to leave the situation as it was at the time of layoff.

The second case was actually settled with monetary compensations (50k€) on that day. So no further informations on that one !

The third case was a programmer, promoted as a technical manager following the buyback of he’s first company to the one who let him go because he wouldn’t move from Montpellier to Paris.
From the employee point of view, the suggested move was refused partly because he was previously divorced and had a child to take care off. Moreover the clause in his work contract mentionning the geographical mobility was far too wide to be valid. The question asked was whether the site was to be closed for economical (an information mentioned in his layoff letter) reasons thus leading to far more compensations than the one given when being laid off.
From the employer point of view, the mobility clause was valid, specially in this highly concurential market. Moreover the new employer of the employee had the exact same clause and limitations, thus showing that the employee could have accepted that one.

A bunch of other cases went before mine, but I was too busy proof reading mine, that I cannot relate them 😀 And for the record, all the result are to be given on the 15th of September !

For mine case, I could obviously not explain it here, but lets say that the choice could go both way in this layoff that was motivated by insufficient results and a refusal of geographical mobility.

Going pass those cases, the funny thing in all this is how a real masquerade this day was !
The attorneys are actors of a piece they choose to play. Each party chooses the lines they want to present. There is absolutely no rationality in how the arguments are exposed and discussed. As a result after the first party presentation, everyone thinks the company is a real bad-ass and did really take advantage of the situation. After the second party presentation, everyone thinks that the employee actually did make some mistakes and that the financial compensations requested are far too high ! So the question stands : how does the jury do it ?
Well they actually have all the elements on paper, not more not less than the ones the parties had to make the plea, and I guess they have to make a choice based on these elements, not really on the presentation of the situations although it can give some pointer.
Another funny thing is how all the advocates are in fact colleagues, and after the plea, drink cofee together, joke, and will even plea on a common case later on … So how is it possible for them to be fair and square and actually defend correctly their clients ?

The final conclusion you might ask ?
For one thing I would never be on either side of the desk : as a jury you must take decisions with far too limited information to be fair, and as an attorney … well let’s say it, you’re just a puppy !
For the second thing, judgments still look to me like a shot in the dark, without reasonable and rational elements being confronted. Maybe the truth syrup actually is the only valid solution ! Anyhow a couple of other jobs I would not like to do, and another institution (attorneys) who’s legitimacy I have difficulties to buy into !

The real value of money ?

One of top blog in my blogrol is the one of StevePavlina. It gives you some really interesting insights on various topics, thus contributing to your personal development. He recently published this article about what he calls “the outrage script”and why it is a blindsided way of thinking.
Here’s a short summary of it to start this post(yes all his article are always that long 😉 ). Taking as an example how Donald Trump switched from buying cheap shoes to top notch ones, he explains and demonstrates how envying people spending a lot of money may not be the best solution. Instead, it would be much more efficient to try to understand how they can spend so much on things (shoes, travels, restaurant, …) and try to accomplish the same thing. That is find a way of making such big expenses (on a first look) look like small ones. Of course the solution to that is by creating value, thus allowing to redistribute the value you created to other people so that they can benefit from it. This is what he calls running the “contribution script” (I create more so I give more) instead of running the “outrage script”(why the hell is this guy spending some much when he could get the same stuff for less ?)

I really liked this post because I think a lot of people can relate to it, and living in France, I can assure that its a pity that so much people run the so called outrage script all day long. I have to agree that everyone’s is being brought up differently, with more or less resources, making the chances of success in life that much difficult for everyone, but still… Anyhow there’s a good chance that between your student life, your first years of work, your first years as a family, … (I’ll stop here because that’s where I’m at ;-)) the way you bought stuff, and so your relation with money, has changed. At first, you need to save every penny. Then you thought you could buy anything (specially with that first pay check) but that was not really the case… Still getting to the restaurant, to the movies, … became less cumbersome. And as your paycheck became bigger, your family size increased, and lots of other every day life events appeared, your relation to money varied. So at that point you have to agree that spending 100 $ as a student or as a 30 year old junkie is not really the same.

Coming from this assessment, you have to ask yourself why is that ? There I totally agree with Steve saying that one reason is because you create value (while working) so you feel less embarrassment in buying expensive (student mind) stuff. So why should not you feel the same when you see people spending 200$ on a dinner or 2000$ for a night in a luxury hotel ? Why don’t you first try to think on how you could do the same and instead, with some envy in your mind, despise those people ? Of course I’m not saying that some expense are not exaggerated, I’m just saying that most of the time you should try to “get there”.

At the end of the day I’m sure that if everyone was thinking like that, lots of things would be different. Take as an example the difference between US and France. There buying a new TV has to be done every 5 years or so. Here, some people still have black and white (maybe it’s a little bit extremist :-D) … Whose economy is more flamboyant again ? When I see today in France people striking to keep their right to strike in the common transportation … You’ve got to ask yourself why they don’t want to make those common transportation more efficient and reliable thus profitable thus attractive to the common person, instead of being thought has a last resort mean of transportation by most. (This crosses an interesting article read on VentureBeat about the Calltrain I read today where they can introduce new trains if a station is too crowded).

Too give a last thought on this article, and on the “contribution script”, I have to say that this should really be a motor in everyone’s life. One thing I don’t like in some people is their incapacity to understand that work is part of your life, and is thus one way of making it better. Of course personal and professional life should be balanced But try to raise one side first, and then the other one … And you will see that your life will remain balanced, but much better and appreciable for everyone. Moreover if you create more value, you will be proud of that and give back one way or another. Do you really think that buying 20$ power drills is a way to keep factories in Europe ? Buying the 300$ one certainly can help ! And that factory worker may well be your next door neighbor you’re barbecuing with on week ends … You see my point ?

So next time you see someone buying a 200$ shirt, or driving a Ferrari, please ask your self how you could be that guy … Create value, give value, and make the world a better place … too simple to be true ? What’s your take ?

Left brain vs right brain

I found this picture by Alix de La Tour du Pin on a french blog about entrepreneurship (here).
This is indeed a really good mashup of what we are all made of : rigor and creativity. As an engineer I tend to have my left brain side take over my full body, but it clearly is really important to let both sides of it show up every once in a while.
Of course anyone will tell you that women have a more developed right brain side, hence their enhance creativity, and our relative incomprehension of their way of working (easy shot granted :-D).
Anyhow, reading about entrepreneurship and speaking with colleagues I find it really important to manage the both sides of your brain efficiently. The left side will hep you manage your work and keep things on track over time. However the right side will help you find the one path to success as well as the necessary envy to get through the day happily and make sure that you keep your work experience a fun and interesting one. Therefore it should be every manager’s duty to encourage his team to let the fun come at the table once in a while in order to make sure that the work can be done nicely and efficiently. And of course this should be the prime role of every entrepreneur out there, not only to make sure that his company always figures out the best ideas before the other ones, but also to make sure that his team (however big or small it is) remains happy and efficient at work.

And you, what’s your take on rigor vs creativity ?

Future of video games …

In a world where EA is king, and others are fighting for the crumbles of the cake, it is nice to see some original moves.
Telltale, the company behind the resurrection of the Sam & Max franchise after a long long time of inactivity, has just secured a $5M funding round to pursue its business.
The originality of this company is that they are not developing big ass games in the traditional way (spend 3 years in full speed development, be one year late, to provide a costly not necessary interesting game), but rather have an agile approach: They sell their games as episodes. This allows them to have quicker turnaround time, to have their customers hold their breath between each episodes release, and of course all of that for the good of the gamers out there.
So I give a big round of applause for this new approach and whish them a very successful list of episodes, specially with the Sam And Max franchise (nostalgy, nostalgy).

Guy and Trumeors

I’m not sure I already mentioned that but since I watched the video The Art of the Start from Guy Kawasaki, I’ve become a huge fan ! From reading his blog, to looking at the company CogHead (he his on the advisory board), to following his advices, I’ve done it all ! You can see that in the presentations I made in tradeshows for my current company … You should surely see the change of method 😉
Anyhow, in a first post on his blog, Guy mentioned the Trumeors web site. And a couple of days later, the verdict got thrown out … It was Guy’s new company, with all the explanation in this post. The list of actions that lead to the current success of this website is plain dead simple, and simply shows how much Guy is understanding how current trends are going. This means how to go from a plain simple (but sure real and new) idea to a successful implementation. Nothing is really complicated as long as you know (the one about the legal fees is clearly interesting) about it. But clearly the starter point here is key : The one great idea that will transform an adventure into success.
I have made it clear to close friends that it was one of my goals to find this great idea and finally start on the entrepreneurial road. However I do think this is the key starter point that is the only way to success. So while looking for it, and finally finding it, I’ll continue learning which I think is another key important point that must not be forgotten about !