Last week the web 2.0 conference Le Web took place in Paris. Many go there to network in what has become the gathering of the world's top web gurus (almost 2,000 of them too). Another reason people attend is to listen in an auditorium to some of these bright sparks speak. In attendance this year were the likes of Hugh Macleod, Robert Scoble, Marissa Mayer, Amit Kapur, Steve Gillmor, Paulo Coelho and JP Rangaswami. I didn't go to Le Web this year, although I did last year. It's a big gig.
Michael Arrington, editor of TechCrunch, was also there and spoke at more than one session and his talks, demeanour and post-event blogging have not gone down well with the 'Europeans' (I use speech marks because of his definition of the term). In short, Michael takes a hefty pop at the European working culture. He doesn't go quite so far as to call us lazy, but he does say that we have a lazy culture which leads 'good people' to get sucked into it thinking laziness 'is the way to go'.
Arrington's generalisations about a sweeping European culture have ensured that he has failed to communicate well with any one country in Europe, and so any points he has made that do make sense have been lost. Hence why he might be asked not to return next year (see bottom of this post for more on that).
I'm knocked back by Michael Arrington's post. His sweeping statements on what Europeans are like seem truly bizarre. Michael says that our focus on the 'joy of life' is great, "but all these two hour lunches over a bottle or two of great wine and general unwillingness to do whatever it takes to compete and win is the reason why all the big public Internet companies are U.S. based."
Us Europeans huh!
Anyone who's experienced UK's compulsory two hour lunches over wine would of course agree (in case you weren't sure, we often don't take lunch breaks in the UK). Or maybe opposite - Swedish Fika and the country's summer downtime (I used to work for a Swedish firm). Or the enormous entrepreneurial Spanish SMB sector. Or the recession in Berlin. Or the diversity of the new European countries who people like Mike Butcher of TechCrunch UK have far more experience of than I do. Butcher is very sharp makes a solid point to underline Europe's diversity in business, technology and entrepreneurialism.
My concern is that TechCrunch with its large readership is perpetuating the notion that Europe, especially to some countries outside of Europe, is all the same. I've spent the last 10 years managing and being managed in European teams that span every country, some of which I do business with daily, some only once every few years. So saying the kind of things like Arrington did winds me up a little.
Forgetting about the generalisations though, there's an interesting point raised in Michael Arrington's post about how Europeans work fewer hours than Americans, and how he thinks this is a bad thing. Michael says that working 8hrs a day, five days a week is part time. 12hrs a day is just "getting started". One of the commenters under his post though points out that to some in Europe, the Arrington culture of work longer, do better (here's an article on that), comes across as horrifically inefficient. It's called the Pareto Principle - where 80% of your results are achieved in 20% of the time. The majority of your time is inefficient, and the skill is in honing your efficiency and not overworking, as it doesn't pay. There are a few quite intellectual responses on this basis to Arrington's post, and I find the dialogue there really interesting.
In a profile of Arrington in Wired magazine, his working day is described as 12 hours of work, followed by more analytical blogging after 10/11pm. So maybe minimum of 14 hour days? And that's apparently less than he used to work. He said: "In the beginning, I got up every day and worked until I passed out." His sacrifice? He talks a little about that in the interview.
So to round this all off, the organisers of Le Web have set up a poll to ask if they would like to see Michael Arrington at Le Web next year. Two thirds have said no! Arrington calls this censorship. He says he "expected more from the European community" and that maybe The Guardian should also be ejected for saying the conference was boring or complaining at the lack of wifi or heat. I think the difference would be the sweeping generalisations, versus the opinions, and let's not confuse the two. Whether Le Web is called boring, cold, connected or not, if I had been subsidised to go then made the statements that Mr Arrington did, I'd anticipate not being asked back in '09.