Hopefully Humorous Observations and Occasional Tips in Dealing with the Gauls and Parisians
“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” Yogi Berra or Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut or physicist Albert Einstein – no one really knows…
But it remains a great quote doesn’t it? The French excel in theory. I mean, “democracy” and “existentialism” both originated in French intellectual circles. The French are also brilliant mathemeticians, perhaps one of the greatest of which was Descartes. But, when it comes to practice, things tend to be a little less clear. There is just something lacking here in terms of realization of all these brilliant ideas. This is of course is not merely a French problem but it seems to be exacerbated here. An example, in French companies, there are meetings all the time. There are meetings to schedule other meetings. And they produce, sometimes, volumes of notes. The problem is that rarely does real ACTION comes out of this circular, recursive disease of meeting-itis (credit goes out to a Frenchie friend of mine for that example :). The French love to theorize and babble on about ideas and such, but they are not real big on say, entrepreneurialism. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any startups here. But it is to say that Twitter, Google, Facebook and eBay didn’t start here either. In my experience, folks coming out of the super-elite French schools tend to be convinced that the world works just like their textbooks say it does and then, rather than modify their theory to meet the reality of chaos that is the working world, they try to rationalize away drift between theory and practice by just pretending that the practice is wrong.
Sometimes the French do come up with an idea lightyears ahead of its time but then are so happy with it that they ignore further development until it is almost too late. My example here would be the Minitel. This was basically a text-based terminal and built-in modem that was given away by the French telephone monopoly France Telecom back in the 70’s and was the first mass form of internet-ish technology available to such a large population anywhere. It is extremely innovative given the times (before the IBM PC I might add!) and some people figured out how to make money on it (the infamous Minitel Rose created several millionaires from textual soft porn!). Only problem is that as a result, the French were late jumping on the PC bandwagon and the Internet was very slow in adoption. Ironically enough, it was one of those Minitel Rose millionaires that opened the floodgates via his company Free Telecom to the world of ADSL for millions of “internautes” (internet visitors in French) in 1999 when internet was already growing by leaps and bounds elsewhere. Part of the blame comes from the former monopoly on telephone-based communication by France Telecom but part of it too comes from the way that the French clung onto the Minitel despite the obvious signs of its obsolescence. Just to close this article and give you an idea of the importance of Minitel, in 2009, it generated 10 million connections per month and over 100 M€ in revenue for France Telecom in 2007. Crazy donchathink?
For more reading fun: Issue #6 on French Driving Hazards