In the Nick of Time?
Dealing with high-pressure deadlines is second nature to journalists. But spending three days in Athens during the run-up to this month’s Olympic Games (“Time [Zone] Travelers,” page 60) brought me to the brink of an anxiety attack. Everywhere I looked, people raced to complete a project — an electric tramway, a road, a stadium, a museum renovation — in advance of August 13 at 8 p.m. That’s when the opening ceremonies will officially begin.
The Atos Origin team that was in charge of setting up the technology infrastructure for the competition seemed unflustered but hyperaware of their immovable deadline. “You can’t go to the customer and say, ‘We’ll get this right in a few weeks,’ ” says Claude Philipps, Atos’s chief technology integrator for the Summer Olympics, and one of the most intuitive and efficient global collaborators I’ve ever met.
That kind of calm is going to be necessary during these games. Local police were already getting a chance to practice their antiterrorism strategies: On the day I toured several Olympic venues around Athens, police preemptively blew up a homemade bomb that had been planted at a Land Rover dealership. We were driving nearby — but missed the action. Philipps, meanwhile, was concerned with when his people could gain access to the sporting venues to start installing computer systems. Only the best athletes at the Olympics are likely to display this kind of grace under pressure. -Scott Kirsner
Tangled Up in Blue
Anyone who has ever been to Target would instantly recognize the Michael Graves (“A Design for Living,” page 76) section simply by the distinctive blue boxes lined up at the base of a kitchen-products gondola. “Graves blue” is a Wedgwood-y shade, as iconic as Tiffany’s robin’s egg blue. Born from the color of architectural blueprints, it’s a complex hue not easily matched with a Pantone number. But it’s Graves’s favorite and, naturally, the one he chose to use in his first collection.
Target, it seems, had other ideas. Graves remembers submitting his first collection — which featured a toaster, a blender, and an ice bucket, all with blue handles — to the trend spotters at Target’s headquarters. “They said, ‘Well, we love it, but the blue will have to go,’ ” he recalls, laughing. ” ‘Blue doesn’t sell. Half of America doesn’t like blue, and the other doesn’t like green. It’s got to be neutral.’ ” The standoff continued until Ron Johnson, then head of the discounter’s home products, mediated the dispute. “I had to step in and say, ‘Guys, these are Michael’s products,’ ” says Johnson, who now oversees Apple’s retail stores. “Design works if it’s authentic, inspired, and has a clear point of view. It can’t be a collection of input.”
When the line launched in stores, Graves was instantly vindicated. From day one, the toaster has been a hit at Target, and five years later, it’s still available. “That’s the fundamental difference about design,” Johnson says. “It endures.” -Linda Tischler
Go, Speed Racer, Go!
By the time I heard “Laaaadiiieees and gentlemen, start your engines!” at this year’s Indianapolis 500 — yes, that’s me standing to the right of Indy legend Mario Andretti — I felt as if I’d already been in my own race.
To avoid the inevitable traffic jam around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I had planned to set out at around 6 a.m. on a bus filled with the folks from Centrix, who, during the weekend, had eagerly pointed out to me all the ways that their company applied the lessons of the racing world to their own (“In Indy’s Pits, It’s More Than Speed,” page 26).
Our bus showed up nearly an hour late, and to make up time, the driver, escorted by motorcycle cops, blew through red lights, shuddering and careening toward the track at speeds well above the bus’s operating threshold. With a death grip on one of the rattling seats, a Centrix rep tried a positive spin. “We integrate racing into everything,” she said. -Michael A. Prospero