Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Native Scottish Haggis is Going Extinct; Does Anyone Care?

My dear friends from Scotland, living and working in Swindon, England at the time, invited me over for a traditional Scottish meal, in celebration of Robbie Burns Day (January, 25th). The sweet couple broke out the Scotch (neat, not watered down with even a cube of ice), and joyfully read poems by Burns, as the Scotch burned down my throat to my stomach. My friends decided to serve me my first Haggis. If you are unfamiliar with Haggis, I was too but, please read on.

In order to deliver such a succulent dish, my friends took a day trip to Ben Nevis in Scotland, home of the Haggis. Ben Nevis is the only place in the world that the strange Haggis lives and roams. You see, the Haggis is a hairy animal, the size of a large rabbit, with a slight imperfection. The Haggis has two short legs on one side of its body and two long legs on the other. This slight imperfection forces the Haggis to run in only one direction up or down Ben Nevis. Haggis, tend to have the smaller set of legs close to the mountain and the longer legs for stability. Most non-native’s, tend to chase the Haggis to no avail as they are like rabbits – very fast. My friends however would set-up a net on a large stretch of the mountain from top to bottom, covering approximately 25 feet. They would then run after the Haggis, chasing them in one direction until they were caught in the net. Haggis can not change direction; they rely on their speed to out run their predators. Fortunately, my friends caught a rather large one and brought it back for our dinner.

My gracious host decided to leave the legs on the haggis to prove to me the length of the legs on each side. Normally the legs are removed prior to cooking. However, when the platter arrived I was very amazed. I had never seen such a strange critter. As the ambiance, the poetry, the laughter, and the meal, was absolutely succulent, I ate more than my fair share.

I asked if I could accompany my friends on their next hunting trip. I was informed that the Haggis is in danger of extinction and the Scottish Government was only giving special permits to locals from Scotland. As unfortunate as this appears, I understood.

Some ask why the Haggis can’t reproduce like rabbits with all the similarities. The challenge for the Haggis is lining them selves up on the same track as another Haggis. Often times the Haggis will be within inches of each other as the run circles around the Glen. Inches away for the Haggis, is like miles to others. They run faster and faster around the Glen to try to align themselves with no solution. Many people have spotted the Haggis running side by side around the Glen for hours. Some haggisitarians will find exhausted Haggis lying still in one path and realign them on a new path. Although, the odds of a Haggis meeting another haggis; it is difficult in these days of extinction.

The Native Scottish Haggis is Going Extinct; Does Anyone Care? What is Haggis? You obviously need another round of Glen Levit. We have reason for adding another day, to celebrate in a special way, the memory of a furry Scot; Who may be gone, but not forgot.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Innovative Expressions Need to be Shared

Why are employee ideas overlooked without a forum to capture them? How do we promote thinking outside the box or bun, and how do we implement informed, educated risk taking? Why do organizations reinvent the wheel when they can benchmark off each other’s innovative ideas? Quit sitting on the box with your bun. Have you ever noticed that the same great ideas tend to be created in multiple departments? How much waste is there when teams don’t communicate and share what they are doing? Partner, we are all on the same team. How do we capture these ideas, implement them, retain them, and recognize our employees for thinking outside the box?

Just because you are doing something correct today, doesn't mean it will be correct tomorrow. Do you remember the Titanic? The unsinkable ship didn’t live up to its name. Challenging paradigms and the status quo should be embraced and recognized by all. “Don’t worry about failure. Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try” (The Wall Street Journal, 1986)

“Motivation is not something you give to people. They give it to themselves. You give them the reason to motivate themselves” (Anonymous). Using technology in existence today, we have an excellent opportunity to communicate and capitalize on an employee's innovativeness. The question then becomes, where do I put all the ideas? I recommend a Web page link from a company homepage, call it what you will, call it "Innovative Expressions." Let the page become a treasure chest of ideas waiting to be discovered. It will provide a forum to communicate and capture ideas. Every group is able to benchmark off another group's ideas. This opens up an avenue for successful knowledge sharing, not knowledge hoarding. Anonymity is necessary for those that do not want to bring light upon themselves.

At 3M, the company created an area to display ideas (inventions) for employees to place items that may or may not have developed into the inventor’s dream. 3M adopted a business philosophy of "there are no bad ideas." They recognize the timing and/or the know-how, may be off on implementation for some ideas. The idea may be too early for successful adoption into the organization or it may not meet current business needs. The idea may not meet business needs today, but it may be implemented as the missing ingredient in another need tomorrow. “Success is not a destination, it is a journey” (Anonymous).

Here is a novel idea; Create interactive, dynamic, intelligent, computer based programs to reduce the need for sustaining information. Even better, embrace a program already developed by another company - providing it meets the need of your business at much less the cost of development. For a business, time is money, anyway you slice it! Again, why reinvent the wheel? Initiate order from chaotic, unplanned website development. Enhance the employee's ability to access information at their fingertips and house similar information in one place, bucket it, if you will. If you as a developer can get information somewhere else (i.e., another department’s website), link to it, rather than creating your own content. Remember, it is not what you think an individual wants to see, it is what they are actually searching for that counts. Use website analytic data to delete content that no one searches on. Today, employees access information anytime, night or day. Work force performance is at risk if you do not continually develop new and improved ways. Don’t get stuck in a rut when it comes to innovation and progress.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Hard Copy Resumes Need Not Apply

I heard a presenter (didn’t catch the name) on KAGM 106.3 FM talk radio in Albuquerque telling people to fax, email, mail and strategically drop off their resumes everywhere. The radio presenter actually said, “The squeaky wheel eventually gets the grease.” Although this analogy is generally correct, I am in direct contradiction of this statement when it comes to applying for a career job. Traditional Hiring Practices have drastically changed. Companies no longer fax over a job posting and pin it to a board for all employees to see.

Today’s Mom and Pop shops or otherwise called, small employers without online database technology for e-Recruit may still accept hard copy (paper) resumes. However, companies with more than 100 employees will most likely have an online application system. Smaller companies really should consider an investment in some e-Recruit software.

Highly technical companies with open positions do not want hard copy resumes, including ones sent via email. Show me how you use technology by placing your resume in my database. Who and what company in the world has time to put your resume in the system for you? Pay somebody if you can’t do it yourself. My perception of an applicant unable (unless by ability issues) to place their resume into our system and fill out our online application is, “Why would I hire you?” How bad do you want the job? Spend the time online.

Another argument in the hiring world is, “Some people don’t have access to a computer.” I read an article in the April 2006, Harvard Business Review on Page 18 concerning internet users. One-sixth of the world’s population or 1 billion people were logged online and internet users, as of 2005. Can you fathom that number? These are the employees companies are fighting for. There is no excuse to not have computer skills in today’s U.S. emerging workforce. Free computer use in libraries and Department of Labor offices. Free e-Mail accounts on Google Mail.

A 2005 Emerging Workforce Study conducted by Harris Interactive (the old Harris Poll) asked 502 senior human resources executives across the U.S. the following: By which methods do you feel you find your best candidates? Their responses: Referrals 58%; Internet/job boards 34%; Classified advertising 33%; Internal recruiters 29%; Professional associations 14%; Staffing/recruiting agency 14%; Temp-to-hire engagement 9%. [Multiple selections were possible].

Almost 60% of the surveyed managers hire by referrals! So if you can’t send hard copies, how do you get referred? Be creative! I suggest you network with professionals in your field. Most companies have a general phone line. Call the general number and ask for the field you are looking to get hired into, try to get a name. Use the website to find an email address of someone in the field. Ask for an informal meeting – meet for coffee, it works. Meet with a professional in the field, but, don’t bring a resume, it isn’t going to be pushed down their throats. Try to build a relationship first. If you impress the individual and keep in touch, your network may pan out with a job. Be creative…

Saturday, March 25, 2006

I'm sorry, I don't speak Russian, but I do speak, NO!

I'm sorry, I don't speak Russian (Izvinite, ia ne govoriu po-russki) but, I do speak “NO!” In 2004, I was privileged enough to travel to Russia to train Russian Hiring Managers at Intel, on a new PeopleSoft upgrade (8.8) to e-Recruit. Study a culture and their ways, in order to know how to do business before you go. Cultural faux pas make great stories after the fact, but, cultural know how builds excellent working relationships now.

What did I know about Russia? I read and enjoyed books by Fyodor Dostoevsky (the Idiot, & Crime and Punishment), and AleksandrI Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago). “The state system itself suffered from its own lack of trust and from its rigidity. These interrogators were selected personnel, but they weren’t trusted either” (Solzhenitsyn). How true? I now know, the flight was horrifically long and the airports were as I envisioned them during the cold war. The interrogators at the entry checkpoints were the same people Solzhenitsyn wrote about above. I guess they have a job for life.

Fortunately, Intel Corporation had a license with GlobeSmart, and with Charis Corp, to assist international companies and travelers with intercultural training. Charis offers a fantastic eight-hour classroom training called “Working with Russia,” and other country specific trainings. The instructors are usually immigrants to the U.S. from the country being trained. As an additional resource, Intel also has Globesmart, a tool offering a fantastic 24 hour online support, 7 days per week, accessible from any computer with internet training capability support. GlobeSmart allows companies to capture and share global experience within a company profile. I printed all the material on Russia, to read, as I crossed the ocean. Thankfully, someone at Intel took the time to write-up some Russian Scams they experienced. These noted experiences prepared me for the challenges ahead.

Have you heard of the “Russian Turkey Drop?” Well, I must look like a turkey. I am in Moscow, in Red Square, I am totally soaking in the cultural experience-I am alone. Although, I am very observant as I am a people watcher. I notice these two guys following me. They had picked me out of the crowd like a turkey in a turkey hunt. I was carrying an expensive Sony camera, wearing a brown suede jacket and black Ray Ban glasses. I changed the direction I was walking by turning to the right, they followed. It was going to get interesting. One of the Russians went wide and the other stayed right behind me. As one of the individuals passed around me, he drops a zip lock bag with a bundle of U.S. dollars in it. The bag appeared to have ten thousand dollars, rolled-up and wrapped with a rubber band. Ethically, my first instinct was to reach for the bag, as I yelled at the gentleman, “Hey! You dropped your money.” I immediately pulled my arm back without touching the bag. I had just read about this scam. The guy behind me picks up the bag of money and shoves it down the front of his pants. With a strong Russian accent he says, “This is a lot of money, shhhhh, I will split it with you.” My immediate response was to throw out my hands and exclaim, “NO!” (I highly recommend screaming NO). I continued to walk. After a few moments the other Russian came back looking for his money. “Have you seen any money? I lost a large deposit of money on the way to the bank,” he said, with his Russian accent, placing his hand firmly on my chest to stop me. I pointed directly at the guy behind me and said in a loud voice, “He has it!”

The other Russian pulls out his wallet and opens it to show that he doesn’t have any money, so I do the same (this is a mistake). As I naturally mirror the guy’s partner in crime, I opened my wallet. To their great disappointment, I only had 30 Rouble (Rbl). $1.00 = 27.8540 Rbl. I had one company credit card and a whole lot of receipts. Leave your valuables in the hotel safe.

This mirroring action of pulling out my wallet is how they gage how much money you have. As they must have been thinking I was looking fairly poor, what could they steal? I had no money. My camera strap was tightly wrapped around my left hand and my right hand clenched – ready for anything. I was ready to rumble. The two Russians were defeated. Their illusions of grandeur and free vodka were squashed like a bug. However, if the scammers had seen, lets say, approximately three hundred dollars in my wallet, they would count their recovered money and claim they were short three hundred dollars. Most tourists will give their money to the scam artist, to avoid trouble and get out of hot water. The conflict is over. The scammers split the cash and look for their next victim.

Don’t just say “Niet,” scream “Niet,” (Don’t just say “No,” scream “No.”).

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance in Malaysia: Why won’t you shake my hand?

While training a course I developed called “Working with the World,” in Malaysia, I was explaining the importance of handshakes and the United State’s perception of such. As young as I can possibly remember, my father taught me the importance of a firm handshake. My Grandfathers also drilled and reinforced the handshake routine to my siblings and I. Counter to this popular U.S. belief, in Asia and other countries, the handshake is less firm than the majority demographic in the United States. Handshakes definitely send a message. Although, the most important part in communication is not the message sent, it is the message that is received.

Cognitive Dissonance is a condition first proposed by the psychologist Leon Festinger, in 1956. I really enjoy using these two words, so I thought, “How can I tie these cool words into a cultural story I have experienced?” Surprise, surprise, another world faux pas emerged. My mind is in a constant strain of cognitive dissonance.

We have associations with a number of handshakes. Firstly, we have the bone crusher handshake. This handshake sends a message that I am dominant and I will over power you. In actuality, people associate the bone crusher with less intelligence and social grace. Sometimes this handshake requires the griped individual receiving the crushing to say, “Uncle,” in order to get released. A more accepted, classic handshake is a firm shake. A warm, firm grip is the most often used handshake in the U.S. This handshake is a sincere greeting, deal sealing and a goodbye gesture. The firm and warm handshake is a full hand squeeze. This shake is perceived as being genuine. However, if your hand is cold and clammy (sweaty) it will send the opposite meaning. Hint: Warm hands under hot faucet if this is a natural tendency of yours, as this will help to overcome this unfortunate bias. Lastly, there is the limp noodle shake (common in many cultures around the world). This handshake sends a nonverbal message or association with a weakness, not perceived in a good light, unless it is received by the opposite gender. Many cultural faux pas have been delivered around the world with handshakes.

Touching can be taboo (major faux pas), as I personally found out in Malaysia. This contradicting cognition served as a wake-up call that compelled my mind to modify my existing beliefs, to minimize the amount of my personal dissonance (conflict) in my thoughts.
As I began to share handshakes with the class in
Malaysia, one-by-one, I could see that most of the students were excited to experience inclusion of the shakes; however, one very nice lady refused to put her hand out and shake mine. Respectfully, I moved on to the next student. As I did, the Chinese manager, asked, “Do you know why she didn’t shake your hand?” I responded with “No.” The manager encouraged the lady to inform me. Her response was, “I am a married woman, I am a Muslim and it is forbidden for me to touch another man. If I touch another man, it is the same as having committed adultery.”

At the time, I had absolutely no idea why she wouldn’t shake my hand. Some people in the U.S. refuse to shake someone’s hand when they want to insult. Honestly, I was experiencing a little insult from the non shake, but, I am also open to new experiences, so my dissonance did not show.

I am totally fascinated and in awe of this tiny morsel of cultural knowledge that stumped the instructor (me). I love to teach diversity classes, as I am always learning from my adult students. I acknowledge, I don’t know and won’t ever know, all there is to know. Cultural awareness and know-how can not be learned in a 4 hour corporate class or a six week semester, it is a life long journey. Thus, my intercultural journey of 40 years has only just begun.

Recommended Reading:

Morrison, Terri; Conaway, Wayne; and Bordon, George. (1994). Kiss, Bow, or Shake hands: How to do Business in 60 Countries. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams Publishing

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Through Avoidance of Cultural Faux Pas, I live with the Curse of the Phoenix Claw

When traveling, it is often times best not to ask what something is before trying it, especially if consuming it. I like to believe I am adventurous, so I will try most items placed before me. I follow the don’t ask, don’t tell policy, when it comes to food. Don’t ask the question you don’t really want an answer for. In China, it is customary to allow the host to select the meals. Take my advice, don’t ask, just enjoy. Although, with this said, on more than one occasion, my Intel counterparts from China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia took cultural advantage of me. In other words, they enjoyed setting me up, in fun.

We all left the Intel site and headed to a Chinese restaurant in downtown Shanghai. I had heard great things about the authentic informal dining and the quality of the food. When we arrived, the decorum was less than I envisioned, but the table was built for sharing with a turning center piece, or rather a huge lazy Susan in the middle. This turn table is great for large parties getting together and serving the food. The host would spin the table to allow each guest time to add portions to their plate. The variety and the smells were succulent to the senses.

It was apparent that all eyes were on me when it came to a particular dish coming to a stop in front of my plate. We were using the back-end of the chop sticks to serve ourselves. Food warning: Don’t make the mistake of using the end you put in your mouth or you will be looked on as a heathen dog or labeled a “Double-Dipper.” Double-Dipper defined as, an individual that takes a bite off of a piece of food (vegetables, chips, bread, etc., and then dips again, and again). All eyes continued on me as I lifted what looked like limp textured noodles onto my plate. “Please try,” exclaimed the host. I started to feel like I was on the Fear Factor television show. Not knowing what the food item was, helped. I tried to cut the noodles with my chop sticks to no avail. Eventually, I picked the cluster of what appeared to be four tough noodles up with my chop sticks and I bit off an inch or so piece. Chewing the food, I then wondered why the bite was so gristly. I continued chewing the food, my host and peers placed their right hands over their mouths and began to chuckle. After swallowing the bite, I politely asked, “What is so funny.” Smiling, I received no answer. I asked a second time, “What is it?” The host said, “Phoenix Claw.”

My mind quickly raced into myth and legend. Phoenix is a fire bird; claw is what they rest on or feet. The Chinese love chicken. The 1.3 billion Chinese and most of Asia eat food cooked in its whole form. For example, if you order duck or crab, expect to get the whole duck bill (not the tab), with flippers included and the crab in entirety. Let’s get real, 1.3 billion people need to eat, nothing goes to waste. I thought for a moment and then exclaimed, “Chicken Feet?” Exchanging a little laughter with the group, my mind conjured up visions of the chicken prating around like the chicken dance, on their feces, in their pens. My stomach didn’t like that at all.

What is the curse of the Phoenix Claw? The visions never go away! Every action has a reaction. Through avoidance of cultural faux pas, I will live with the Phoenix Claw experience, forever…

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I Screamed, "Eyes Left"

A personal example of disagreeing and committing is from the United States Air Force. I was stationed at RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom from 1985 to 1994. Early 1985, we were being instructed in aircraft load planning and participating in a simulated training for loading a C-5 aircraft for deployment. During this instruction we were being directed to load a C-5 aircraft. This aircraft was invisible much like Wonder Woman’s plane. We began the staging of air ground equipment weighing thousands of pounds (not invisible) and we prepared the cargo for loading.

The team began to push heavy equipment to the rear of the simulated plane, when we were loudly interrupted by our leader. To protect the leader we will call him “Nap.” His direction on this memorable day was inconceivable. Unfortunately, we were being directed to load a C-5 aircraft through the side of the airplane, in case you are unfamiliar with a C-5, it can only be loaded through the tail or nose opening. As an Airmen, one of my nicknames was “little General,” as I would openly and vocally disagree. So I stopped the simulation and questioned my superior as to the simulated process, pointing out the chalked plane has no cargo openings on the sides and that we should proceed to load from the rear. I was immediately told in a loud voice to “Just Do it.” So as a subordinate, I proceeded to thrust heavy air ground equipment through the air frame of the C-5. Humorously wondering to myself the whole time on how the simulated plane would ever be able to get off the ground on take off with no metal siding.

After the training, I was openly chewed up and spit out. In addition, as a price for my questioning and assumed insubordination, I spent hours marching up and down the beautiful green airfield. However, in my opinion it was all worth it. Challenging the status quo is the only way to go. I had voiced my disagreement and then committed to the task (directed, or not) by loading a C-5 through the aircraft’s air frame.

In recognition of this event, I documented a humorous corporate narrative called “Eye’s Left.” Military formations use “Eye’s Right” to align the troops. I used “Eye’s Left” to call out the humor in the simulated training, the lack of openness to ideas, and challenge of the status quo. Everyone I worked with on this simulation still remembers the day we call “Eyes Left.”

Hind sight is 20/20 and it teaches us good lessons. Be open to appropriate use of disagreement, be open to change, be able to commit to the task even if you are not listened too. As I worked my way through the ranks my nickname went from Little General to General Nuisance. I am proud to be able to contribute, even if it is a nuisance.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Why do they keep dumping on me?

My first real offer of getting paid, a chance to make some real money, occurred in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (near New Orleans). I was 5 years old and my brother had just turned 4. My Mom and Dad were attending Louisiana State University (LSU) and my brother and I were filled with the spirit of adventure.

The home we were renting backed up onto a cow fence. My brother and I would climb over the fence with red towels to play bull fighter and other fun games that our parents would have chastized us for, had they known. One day, we got stuck on the top of the metal fencing. Alright, I was trying to save face for my brother, he got stuck and needed stitches as the metal penetrated his inner thigh as we scrambled to get away from the dairy cows we called, “Bulls.”

One day the owner of our “Bulls” had a calf escape from the fence. As he was tired of chasing it, he offered $5.00 dollars to the neighborhood kids if one of us could catch it. There must have been 8 to 10 kid’s employed individually to catch that mad calf. The pack of kid’s took off running after the already worn out calf. I remember distinctly running from the back of the pack to the front of the money hungry kid pack. I was wearing tuff skin jeans, and trainers. I also had some bottled up speed when there was $5.00 dollars on the line.

As I approached the trotting calf, I leaped into the air, grabbing a kung fu grip on to the calf’s tail. Grasping the tail tightly with both hands, for dear life I might add, I was being dragged like a rag doll. No matter, I was holding on to that $5.00 dollar bounty. You know the saying, “No pain, No gain.”

What seemed an eternity, was most likely seconds. My ego seems to remember at least eight seconds. As the eighth second passed, so did something else. I suppose the calf was trying to lose some dead weight. I was at the right place and the right time. I received the passing. The calf lost about 50 lbs of weight, 10 pounds of dung and 40 lbs of me. Feeling the heat, seeing the brown, and smelling the stench, I had just received an important business rule. Rule number one, “Don’t let them dump on you.”

My fingers lost their desire to hold on to the bounty. In slow motion, I released the tail, hit the ground bouncing and watching the other kid’s continue on their journey and their business deal. I was ousted.

To make matters worse, I had to watch the kid who finally captured the calf, bring her home and take the bounty. The recognition for my efforts was all over me. I sadly walked home to clean off the mess. “Tomorrow is another day.” Failure is a great lesson in life.” I hope I will never chase a mad calf again.” What mad calves escape in your world? This time mine was definitely not a money cow!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Game of Connect Four Cost me a lot more in China

After a long day of training, I returned to the Jin Mao Tower in Pudong, China. I sat at my desk admiring the view from the sixty-fourth floor window. The panorama is breath taking. I had nearly twenty feet of window from side-to-side and from ceiling to floor. My great view included the Hungpu River, a river with a highway of activity, it never sleeps. Please note that the rivers and lakes are not for swimming in China. For one, it is cold, and another, the water is dirty and full of liver flukes, but, again, what a view!

With over 9 million people living in Shanghai, I imagine I had a scenic look of at least half the population from above. The Jin Mao is the tallest building in China and I believe it the third tallest building in the world. Space is a premium. Most people in the city live in high rise buildings, in close proximity.

As I peered down to the street below the Jin Mao Tower I noticed a pub on the corner of the street. I decided to venture out and grab a beer. Entering the pub I noticed it was fairly vacant. I decided to sit at the bar and place an order. After a couple of sips of the ice cold brew, an exchange of English words (not fluent, but noteworthy), a Chinese bar maid pulls Connect Four from below the bar and asks me if I would like to play. Interestingly, I had never been asked to play a child’s game in a pub before. So I played a few games of Connect Four and exchanged English words. Catching me off guard, the Chinese bar maid asked if I would like to buy her a drink. I don’t frequent pubs that often, but again, I can’t remember if I have ever seen any “pub help” drinking while on duty. Of course, when in China, do as the Chinese, so I put another drink on my tab and continued playing.

A little later, the bartender asked for a drink, and then the table cleaner, and then the manager. When would all the shenanigans end? In Ireland, they call it, sionnachuighm and it is defined as, playing tricks on someone. Finally, I put my foot down and said “No.” I asked for my tab. When the tab arrived, I realized the shenanigans had cost me a bundle. To my amazement the tab came to $100.00 dollars for 4 drinks and 6 games of Connect Four. When I asked the manager about the tab she said, “You must pay for the ladies time.” What? Can you believe it? They required me to pay for the ladies time! I said, “In the U.S. we do not pay for a ladies time in a pub when we chit chat.” I then thought for a moment, or do we? All I can say is, “Buyer beware!” One beer in the wrong pub or mysterious Piano Bar may cost you far more than gold! I departed quickly, crossed the street, and climbed back into my safe tower, wondering how I had ever fallen for that scam. Even though I won a few of the rounds, I had lost the game!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

“Bali or Bust”

When people ask me where I am from, or where I grew up, I say everywhere. Growing up all over the world was a great lesson in life and in flexibility. In 1979, we moved to Ft. Walton Beach Florida for the second time and we lived on the panhandles inter coastal waterway. Some people refer to it as “Baby Alabama.” It is pretty close either way. As a surfer and a world traveler I am here to inform you that the Gulf Coast may not have a lot of waves, but when she pumps, they are world class perfection. For those that surf, keep believing the lie about the dry, as it keeps those beauties to me, oh my.

Anyway, during the early 1980’s, I watched a surf film at the base of the Destin bridge, in an old shack of place. This was way before the new Destin of Glamour, it was just a dirty old fishing village. My friends that lived in Destin were called “Fish-heads.” The title of the surf movie is “Fantasea.” In the movie, I believe I experienced and fell in love with Bali, Indonesia. I said, “I am going to surf Bali one day.”

In 2004, this dream came to fruition. I was traveling all over the globe training PeopleSoft, version 8.8, and intercultural know how, in a class I developed, called “Working with the World.” My training audience included; Staffing professionals and Hiring Managers in China, Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, and England. This journey was an eight week long road trip. Opportunity knocked when I had ten days off between China and Malaysia, so I negotiated a ten day trip to Bali on the company. My company was spending $2600.00 dollars on a return flight home from China. I decided that instead of flying back home I would stay in the region for the sake of staying in the time-zone, jet-lag relief, and personal convenience. I realized a cost avoidance or savings for the company of $600.00 dollars and lived my boyhood dream. Important to remember, be creative if you travel and always negotiate. A wise man from Malta, code name: “Good-Time Charlie,” once told me, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

All my surfing friends and business peers (except one), warned me that I was going to die and asked me if I had lost my mind. If you are not familiar with the reason, it is the unfortunate, first 2002 Bali Bombing, which claimed 202 lives. However, Bali was calling me. In my opinion, everyone should continue to travel.

One of my business peers, and my training partner for Malaysia joined me in Bali for the fun. Made (second born) and Tut (third born), were our personal island surf guides. All I can say is, “The Indo surfers rip!” We paddled out at Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Dreamland, Balian, and of course Madewi. My good friend can now claim having surfed his first time in Bali, as all the other surfers drool.

Indonesia and the island of Bali are beautiful. In fact, everything is beautiful in Bali, except the smell from the Duren fruit. To avoid making a cultural faux pas, please try the island fruit, especially, DurenKing of Fruit.” This fruit smells worse than Limburger cheese, but tastes divine. The locals will love you for your spirit of adventure. Everyone else will run from you like you have the plague.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Chinese Road Rage Meets American Karate Kid Head-on

Alright, I will admit, I have no martial art skills, but I did see the Karate Kid movie in the 1980’s, fortunately for me, I knew the Praying Mantis movement would come in handy one day and its day finally arrived. In case you need a jolt, of memory jog, the Praying Mantis is similar to the Karate kid standing with one leg on a pole, the other leg bent and up. Hands are postured to resemble the Praying Mantis.

After working a full day in Pudong, I was feeling very hungry. I was a pedestrian in Shanghai and I had just walked for miles all over the Bund. I had a dinner engagement with two of my peers residing at the Westin hotel so I was making my way across town to join them for dinner. Being a pedestrian can be a dangerous business with at least 200 traffic related fatalities per day, amounting to at least seventy-three thousand deaths per year in Shanghai. With this in mind, a walker must be prepared for anything. Trust me when I say, anything!

I had the Westin in my sight. The road seemed as clear as it could be so I took a chance at crossing. Just as I crossed the mid-point, hundreds of bicycles came around the corner and blocked my crossing of the road. As I looked back to return to the side I had just committed to leave, traffic had begun and it was not possible. I was stranded in the middle of the street. There was no division between the South bound and North bound, traffic. To make matters worse a city bus had come to a stand still right in front of me. I was thinking, “This is not good.” The bus driver openly displaying his disappointment, obviously not happy with the situation and neither was I. As I continued to look for an out, the bus driver bumped me with the bus. Yes, the bus driver hit me. Although the hit was not damaging (other than my pride), I let the first bump go with a glance. The second bump knocked me a little harder, as if to push me down the street. This occurrence demanded some attention. This time I slapped both hands firmly onto the front metal panel of the bus and looked the driver directly in the eyes. Slowly backing up without losing eye contact, I raised into the Praying Mantis stance. The bus driver looked on in disbelief. Eventually the smile made its way clear and the bus driver threw his hands into the air (smiling which isn’t always an easy non-verbal to receive), and waved me on. Finally there was an opening in bike traffic and I was able to cross, the bus went on its way and we all lived to tell about it. In Asia, making fun of your self is usually the best answer to cultural interpretation and ultimately understanding of the humor.

I didn’t expect the Chinese bus driver to have ever seen the Karate Kid movie, but I realized he would recognize the Praying Mantis stance. International and/or cultural humor is not always appropriate and is often times misunderstood due to language and cultural differences. Be careful sharing jokes or expecting other cultures to understand your humor. Many words and non-verbal communication do not translate well, for example, the American “Brown Bag” Meetings. For years, I would host a number of global brown bag lunch meetings. One day a Chinese counterpart asked, “What is a Brown Bag?” The light went on!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Shanghai Chinese and Driving Aggression

In 2004, I had the privilege of visiting Shanghai China for the first time. I have to tell you, I love to travel to new and exciting places. I am enamored by culture, difference and new experience. Fortunately for me, Intel Corporation booked me into the Shanghai Grand Hyatt. I had no idea of what to expect. The taxi driver asked where I was going and I exclaimed, “The Grand Hyatt Jin Mao Tower.” The taxi driver’s head twisted around and he said, “Jin Mao Tower?” I said, “Yes.” I was dressed in jeans for comfort, cultural faux pas or not – okay, maybe I did resemble an Ugly American. The taxi driver says “You must be a big wig, only big wigs stay at the Grand Hyatt.” I said, “No, I am a little wig.” The taxi driver didn’t believe me, so I politely allowed him to savor his belief. Even though the taxi driver was incorrect, in China the observance of hierarchy maintains the social order. Cultural perceptions are what they are; perceptions. It is not the message sent as much as it is the message received that counts.

The Chinese by nature are very respectful and aware of another’s personal belongings. In Shanghai, most people travel via bike, so there are bikes everywhere. These bicycles are parked, unlocked, and parked along the streets. If you steal (borrow) a bike in China you will be fined and humiliated. Not many Chinese are willing to accept this risk. So leave well alone the temptation to ride another’s bike, even if you are running late for the job. Personally, I have chased down one or two bike thieves in my day and I gladly boast a 100% recovery rate, 2 for 2. Of course, boasting is considered unsophisticated by the Chinese, but this lesson in character adjusting may have been enough for the bike thieves to leave well alone in the future. I simply gave the thieves the American version of the Chinese people’s large fines and humiliation.

There is a nice mix of the old and of the new in Shanghai. Some of the architecture is built to accommodate symbolic dragons passing thru without incident (another day). The building usually has a four story hole or ramp-like top built in to the design. This aids the dragon in flying through the hole or rocketing off the ramp instead of causing chaos by plummeting clumsily through the construction causing havoc and loss of work.

Chinese people usually place a lot of effort on friendship with outsiders in order to make them feel as much at home as possible. Many Chinese have adopted Western names in business to aid others in remembering and to streamline communicating with them. Most people other than the Chinese have no real understanding of the importance of the Chinese names (another study).

As an outsider in China, you can expect to receive a great deal of hospitality. One exception is when behind the wheel of a vehicle and on the road, which brings me to the driving aggression of the Chinese in general.

I noticed quite a bit of horn noise on the way to the Jin Mao Tower. On a number of occasions there were 8 cars, trucks, and elderly Chinese pushing vintage carts down a roadway within 5 lanes, never mind the bicycle traffic. Needless to say, my heart skipped a beat here and again as we went bumper to bumper with other vehicles including buses and large freight trucks. During my stay I did not attempt to drive myself and I forewarn any future travelers to do the same. Traveler, be aware, spend money on taxi’s! If you ignore this warning don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Trouble and Initiative go Hand-in-Hand

If you are not getting in “Trouble” for using too much initiative, what’s wrong? What are you doing? Obviously, something is wrong. I received my first official letter of counseling at 19 years of age (1985). I was an Airmen First Class (2 stripes) in the Air Force, stationed at Royal Air Force Station Fairford. At the time I was in a logistics field responsible for inbound freight. They called me, “Little General,” at the time, as I tended to be a little vocal, at times. As I made rank, they eventually coined me, “General Nuisance,” as I enjoy challenging the status quo.

Most of the United States Air Force European (USAFE) bases would rack up multiple thousands of dollars in detention charges. Detention charges amount for keeping loaded trailers longer than the agreed upon contractual time. I had a personal goal of zero detention dollars and I worked with my counterparts, the Supply folks to keep our base detention at zero. In fact, I made money for the Air Force (tax relief for the U.S.), as the trucking company would incur storage charges for leaving their empties on the base longer than three days. We unloaded the trailers so fast the truckers couldn’t keep up on the removal. To meet this challenge of zero dollars in detention I would occasionally need to unload a vehicle into my empty warehouse. Space is a premium and my warehouse was not being fully utilized.

On one of the days I unloaded freight into my warehouse, I was called into the office and informed that I was being written up. I was to receive a negative letter of counseling. I asked, "Why?" My supervisor stated, "For using too much initiative!" Under my breath I chuckled a little in anger. My supervisor went on to say, “You don’t have the authority to down load a container into our warehouse without my permission.” I thought to myself, the warehouse is empty! Afterwards, I was handed the counseling form to read. Honestly, I was a little miffed. I signed the form without reading it. My supervisor asked me, "Don't you want to read it." I said, "Nope," handed him the signed form and I returned to my business. I had a job to do.

The following week, I received a formal recognition from Headquarters (HQ) 3rd AF for the lowest detention charges in USAFE. My efforts offset the other European bases lack of initiative, otherwise known as “Detention Charges.”

For the record, here is a maverick notion; there is nothing wrong with informed risk taking! I have said it before, “failure is an option, because with out failure, progression is minimal. Learn from the negative event, failed project, invention, relationship and press on. Failure is relative not an absolute! Identity comes in two forms: trivial (absolute) and/or nontrivial (relative).

Please make me write you up for using too much initiative! At that time, know that you are a “Mover and a Shaker!” Mix it up.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Techie Hiring Events will Never be the Same

So check this out! I dibble in this and I dabble in that. Last May, I attended my first National Restaurant Association (NRA) 2005 annual event in Chicago. I worked pro bono’ish for a good entrepreneur buddy and his company called Comm Log. Alright, I did work for free, except I openly received great food, awesome entertainment (Second City), and lodging. Will work for food is not a bad philosophy. During my time I explored the NRA and identified a few new approaches to business and other resources for the provision of innovation. There is a whole world out there. Pop, your “I’m a buyer”or “I’m a whatever,” bubble and seek out new ventures.

During the event, I came across a company called "Motoman" They were presenting the most exciting new innovation in bartending, a product called “Robo Bar.” See RoboBar in action.

You are probably asking yourself “what the heck does Robo Bar have to do with hiring?” Now step back and think about techies. Techies love high tech and robotics is high tech. When 300 companies compete at hiring events for top applicants how do you stand alone? Do you stand there like 300 other high tech companies in their logo shirts like you work for Hot Dog on a Stick? Or do you rent or buy Robo Bar and have applicants standing in line for a robotic bartender that serves them soft drinks during the day event and other drinks at the evening social mixer. Mix it up!

I see innovative companies like Apple, Google, 3m, and Intel stirring it up with Robo Bar in break rooms (sorry folks no alcohol during business hours).

By the way, I am not affiliated with Motoman, just spreading the love… Personally, I would like to see Motoman and the Honda Humanoid Robot [ASIMO] combine innovation. Think about the future opportunity to have ASIMO replace all the human (biased) recruiters and Motoman serving up refreshments. Fun!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

“Without Due Respect; We Wore Our Gifts”

To the Japanese, the art of giving gifts is an excellent way for them to communicate their personal respect, friendship, and appreciation. Visitors to Japan or hosts to a Japanese colleague should always be prepared for a gift giving ceremony. This ceremonial exchange should be announced as to allow for preparation, do not shock your host or visitor. The giving and receiving of gifts is deeply rooted in Japanese culture.

In 1977, we received really nice gifts from our Japanese hosts. One of the gifts included a set of traditional style Rosewood Japanese sandals. If you are unfamiliar with this style of sandal, picture a fine, flat piece of wood in the shape of an oval. Now place a padded purple velvet support (vision a flip flop) that fits between your toes. The base of the sandal is 2 blocks of wood running the opposite direction of the oval.

Remember, “This is very good advice. Try to learn what the Japanese regard as “the proper way” of doing all sorts of things that might strike you, an outsider, as unimportant or unnecessary, whether it is an act as simple and automatic as serving tea to any guest who arrives whether or not they are thirsty, or something more subtle as how to receive a gift or decline a compliment.” (Condon, 1984, pg 19). In Japan, never exchange or receive a gift without using both hands.

I treasure my slightly worn gift and it is still in my possession today, however, the gift is for display use only, not daily use. The American guests used the sandals. We decided to wear the gift and walk all over the city in our traditional Japanese sandals like Zatoichi (a blind cane swordsman) my favorite Japanese show. We even wore the sandals to the bath house. Needless to say, we looked a little foolish and most likely left mental scars in the distant memory of our Japanese hosts. I believe the Japanese children thought it was funny at the time, although they may have been laughing at us out of embarrassment for us. Jack Condon spells it out like this, “A person who is embarrassed in public - that is, in such a way that others become aware of it – shares that embarrassment with those of the group.” (Condon, 1984, pg 30).

Fortunately, at eleven years of age we were most likely entertainment over embarrassment, maybe even a novelty.

Gift giving in Japan is a reflection of the Japanese culture and it is so different than the act of gift giving in other countries and cultures. Being aware of the rituals of another culture before you go, can help you avoid costly cultural mistakes. Study hard grasshopper!

Today’s Recommendation

Condon, J.C., “With Respect to the Japanese: A Guide for Americans.”
Maine, Intercultural Press, Inc. 1984 ISBN 0-933662-49-1

Dresser, Norine., “Multicultural Manners: New Rules of Etiquette for a Changing Society,” John Wiley & Sons, 1996 ISBN 0-471118-19-2

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Yeah, but, Where are you “Really” From?

Here I am at 40 years of age, studying culture, an interculturalist, and yet still making cultural faux pas hand-over-hand. Due to cultural faux pas that I recently made, I remembered a book I had read by Professor Frank Wu titled Yellow; Race in America Beyond Black and White (ISBN 0-465-00640-x (paperback).

My latest cultural faux pas was fairly innocent mistake. How easily mistakes are made based upon names, appearance and nonverbal communication. This recent event happened very quickly. I made an assumption in regards to the cultural past of a Senior Executive with a Japanese name. My group was working on getting funding for our company to use an intercultural Web based tool from Meridian Eaton called GlobeSmart. We have also contracted with Charis, to deliver an eight hour course called, “Working with the Japanese.” The Senior Executive was excited about GlobeSmart and interested in the intercultural work we were promoting. Without knowing the background or life history of the Executive, I asked if the Executive would mind speaking as our company representative from Japan. The Executive stated he had previous obligations. I thought nothing else of the interaction. When we departed the meeting one of the ladies working on the Implementation Team asked me a pertinent question “Was the executive born in Japan?”

Immediately my mind flashed back to Professor Wu and his life experience. How could I be so insensitive? I have two actions that need to be corrected. First, I made a personal mistake that needs to be addressed with a cultural correction through this writing. I also need to recognize my peer for pointing out my mistake. The Executive with a Japanese name probably felt my cultural faux pas as it slipped from my lips. Sure he has a Japanese name, but he might be a fourth generation born American Japanese. Second, I also owe the Japan Executive a phone call with a personal apology from me. The good news about cultural mistakes is they become fodder for supporting intercultural training necessities.

In professor Wu’s book, the question "Where are you really from?" implies that everyone goes through life interacting with other people and other cultures (including the concept of race even if we are not mindful of it). I personally use a question such as “Where are you from? I noticed you have an accent.” as an ice breaker. I am truly interested in finding out and speaking to individuals from other cultures. This is what I enjoy and each time I learn something new from each individual.

Today’s Recommendation:

Professor Frank H.Wu, lays out the dilemma of being Asian in America in terms that are spare but evocative: "I remain not only a stranger in a familiar land, but also a sojourner through my own life....I alternate between being conspicuous and vanishing, being stared at or looked through. Although the conditions may seem contradictory, they have in common the loss of control. I am who others perceive me to be rather than how I perceive myself to be." Wu is not content in being an idle observer or a pawn in someone else's social drama; however, he draws on a lifetime of involvement in the great issues of our times to write thought-provoking and well-researched analyses of affirmative action, racial profiling, immigration restrictions, anti-Asian violence, interracial marriage, and much more.

Click this link to learn more about Professor Frank Wu’s article in the Civil Rights Journal, titled, “Where are you really from? Asian Americans and the perpetual foreigner syndrome.”