Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thinking (not acting?) outside the box

Have you wondered why certain sayings are phrased one way versus another? Why do we NOT say "act outside the box?" and instead push "thinking" to venture out? Coloring outside the lines is said to be good at times..but we are never told to redraw those lines. Boxes can be turned inside out but it's still the box. We need that box.

"How does one do it? " asked a student the other day; "we try so hard to get away from the 'structure' but it's so dominant and all...it's hard to escape!" Students already referring to "society" as "structure" means that she is paying attention in class...not bad, not bad at all! Taking theory and applying it to one's life to grapple about one's own existence is even better.

This is the age of the tortured soul. It is a privilege to pause, ponder, probe.
It is an achievement to recognize that we' re within a particular confinement. If we know the rules, we can play with them.
And play we do...

If the box is made of cloth, is it still the Box?


Instead of trying to get outside the box, why not exhibit ourselves through the box?


In fact, why not make the box "home" and that way, you reverse efforts...you' ll now want to get back "in" and not out!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bow when I bow: Business etiquette all the way?


Can't blame corporations for packaging culture. Anything to make a deal. It's that slight edge that you get in knowing that you cannot discuss business over dinner in Argentina or that it's not done to address your Korean client by her first name. Nuances infuse relationships. Missed nuances apparently can cost you your contract or sour your business partnership. In fact, management gurus and experts have done a great job in infusing paranoia about cultural misunderstandings in the business circuit...

"...the single greatest barrier to business success is the one erected by culture." Edward T. Hall and Mildred Reed Hall

Metaphors lace this paranoia:

"Culture is like an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is easy to see. This includes the visible aspects and do's and taboos of working in other cultures. The remaining huge chunk of the iceberg hidden below the surface includes the invisible aspects of a culture such as the values, traditions, experiences and behaviors that define each culture. Venturing into different cultures without adequate preparation can be just as dangerous as a ship maneuvering icy waters without charts, hoping to be lucky enough to avoid hitting an iceberg. The difference is that the ship will know immediately when it hits an iceberg."

So sure, there is some validity in learning business etiquette but at what expense? It is dangerous to condition oneself before hand on "Arabic" or "Mexican" business "ways" as it negates several essentials:

1) Business people across the world are more forgiving of cultural faux pas when it is evident that you're outside their cultural zone

2) Sometimes, your ignorance can be turned to an advantage where you use this opportunity to LEARN about your partner and ask freely questions regarding their culture; it not just demonstrates that you're interested in them as people but also in their culture. Business is NOT just about making DEALSl its about establishing relationships.

3) People from a particular culture are rarely consistent and true to their cultural "expectations;" Crossing cultural lines can be liberating from the stranglehold of a particular "cultural" business practice.

4) Misunderstandings when confronted and resolved can actually lead to stronger bonds and ties in business; conflict and resolution deepens relationships at times.

5) Adhering to a cultural cliche can actually be perceived as stereotyping and can be seen as an insult

The bottom line is to be in the moment. The unknown should be looked upon as a treat to a new world versus something to be feared.

Fear never sells.

Culture for Dummies?



This is no joke. Believe it or not, there are "Culturally sensitive Quizzes" out there to train you to perform better in business across different cultures and nations. It's so stereotypical that it should crack you up (although obviously not intending to do so); Try it out.

Check out Kwintessential


=================================================
QUESTIONS SAMPLE: Cross-Cultural Quiz on Islam

1. On which day would you expect to get least business done in Muslim countries?
Friday
Saturday
Sunday

2. Which of these would make the best gift for a Muslim client?
Silk tie
Perfume
Watch

3. The teachings of Islam emanated from which modern day country?
Palestine
Saudi Arabia
Egypt

4. During negotiations your counterpart keeps saying 'inshaAllah' (God willing) to each of your requests. What should you do?
Accept the 'inshaAllah' mentality
Demand some firm commitments
Repeat the phrase but try and establish some concrete agreements

5. What is the name of the holy book in Islam?
Torah
Mecca
Quran

6. If you have a proposal to take to a company - who should you aim to speak to?
A member of staff that has access to the senior ranks
The owner
The relevant departmental manager

7. You are preparing a presentation for some potential Arab clients. What kind of information would be best?
Statistical
Visual
Textual

8. When greeting a Muslim woman which of these should you do?
Wait for her to extend a hand before shaking hands
Shake hands to avoid the possibility of causing offense
Not greet her as this will cause her to lose face

9. Prior to doing business with Muslims, which of these will assist you most?
Highlighting your reputation
Establishing trust
Having a well thought out and attractive business proposal

10. You are negotiating with an Arab Muslim to buy one of their products - their starting price is higher than you anticipated. What should you do?
Haggle until you reach the price you want
Accept it - the price will not change
Call an end to the negotiations

========================================================
ANSWERS:

1. On which day would you expect to get least business done in Muslim countries?
You answered: Friday
Correct!

2. Which of these would make the best gift for a Muslim client?
You answered: Silk tie
Incorrect answer. The correct answer would have been: Perfume

3. The teachings of Islam emanated from which modern day country?
You answered: Egypt
Incorrect answer. The correct answer would have been: Saudi Arabia

4. During negotiations your counterpart keeps saying 'inshaAllah' (God willing) to each of your requests. What should you do?
You answered: Repeat the phrase but try and establish some concrete agreements
Correct!

5. What is the name of the holy book in Islam?
You answered: Quran
Correct!

6. If you have a proposal to take to a company - who should you aim to speak to?
You answered: The owner
Correct!

7. You are preparing a presentation for some potential Arab clients. What kind of information would be best?
You answered: Statistical
Incorrect answer. The correct answer would have been: Visual

8. When greeting a Muslim woman which of these should you do?
You answered: Wait for her to extend a hand before shaking hands
Correct!

9. Prior to doing business with Muslims, which of these will assist you most?
You answered: Establishing trust
Correct!

10. You are negotiating with an Arab Muslim to buy one of their products - their starting price is higher than you anticipated. What should you do?
You answered: Haggle until you reach the price you want
Correct!

==============================================
My final score is: 70% (Apparently "A decent score")

Stereotypes make the world go flat!

I love stereotypes! Granted, it ruffles quite a few feathers and often for good reason. The Italians want you to know that they're more than just a bowl of pasta; the Dutch insist that they don't walk around in clogs holding tulips to their face; and the Canadians well, would appreciate it if you stopped calling them American.

We expend much time and energy on how stereotypes offend. However, it's time for a new kind of PR for stereotypes.
So I proclaim the following: STEREOTYPES BOND US TOGETHER

Really.

So listen up...

One day, Paddy Irishman, Paddy Englishman, and Paddy Scotsman walked into a pub together. They proceeded to each buy a pint of Guinness. Just as they were about to enjoy their creamy beverage, three flies landed in each of their pints and got stuck in the thick head.

Paddy Englishman pushed his beer away from him in disgust.

Paddy Scotsman fished the offending fly out of his beer and continued drinking it as if nothing had happened.

The Irishman, too, picked the fly out of his drink, held it out over the beer and then started yelling: "AH YOU LITTLE THIEF! SPIT IT OUT, SPIT IT OUT!"

...haven't you ever laughed at paddy jokes or your own version of "racist" jokes? In fact, there is a paddy out there laughing the loudest at this joke.

Even the cute furry muppets agree that everyone is a little bit racist!

Humor often comes at someone's expense.

This my dear reader, is the price for us to all get along!

Monday, April 12, 2010

On the Internet, EVERYbody knows you’re a dog


Online anonymity is overrated.

Trust.

The "real" and the "fictitious" identity socialize in cyberspace.

Deception online may not be a morality issue when everybody is doing it; when everybody EXPECTS you to do it; and sometimes, mass deception becomes fantasy, when everybody WANTS you to do it.

When it becomes routine social practice, it becomes the norm.

Masquerades become carnivals, become temporary and recurring pleasure. "tootsie23@" tells her story for everybody to read. Is it really relevant to know how authentic "tootsie23@" is? Can we use the same moral compass that we apply to books and journals, newspapers and all other kinds of conventional print to online pontifications? The sacredness of print reminds us of its age, its stature - it provides the comfort zone.

Even in masquerades, when we reveal ourselves in plain sight, we are still part of the carnival. We are still playing a part. As long as the carnival is going on, we are seen in costume, whether it is true or not.

Perception is reality.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Being WATCHED!


An enthusiastic student comes into my office - he's one of those die hard Apple fanatics, the lifeblood of this industry. This fruit lover makes a compelling case to transform academia for the students through simple Apple software. He wants to tape the lectures through his camcorder and upload it on the Apple video site for students to watch and learn. He argues (point well taken) that students can refresh their memories on certain concepts covered in class and basically grasp material better. He says that he gets that universities are inherently bureaucratic and for immediate action, students need to take initiative. He promises that students will appreciate getting this material through a range of mediums and applications -podcasts to Facebook, listening as they commute or when cramming in study groups.

Yes. So true. Although nothing original here actually. It's already being done in some universities, albeit the sexy brands expanding their reach through new media. TED speakers today have a worldwide audience; some lecturers are gaining celebrity status. Besides, this phenomena expands democracy in education by providing access to the great and well, not-so-great minds as they pontificate on micro specimens to urban design and 16th century art. Mediocrity has a place here..in fact, its the very substance of such online academic democracy...everyone gets heard across board who are CHOSEN to be heard.

So why hasn't this caught on?

Couple of reasons...

1) Academics are human too - we fumble and stumble and bullshit our way sometimes through material...this promises to capture that vulnerability. How does one "erase" miseducation and misrepresentation when captured through online posterity?

2) Academics are narcissistic - the last thing we need is to be reminded that we're aging and nerdy and have high pitched or flat monotonous teaching styles. God forbid, we watch our own lectures online and fall asleep through it!

3) Academics are forced to perform- this is a sort of academic whoring where we are meant to appease to a larger audience when being filmed; the camera creates a self-conscious performance, sometimes geared more towards form than substance.

That said, students are more forgiving than we'd like to believe. Besides, fear of such possibilities are NEVER a good reason to turn such ideas down. The camera may just teach us something in turn. And who knows, we may one day start to enjoy our online alter ego!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Battle of the Wolves? Dances with the Bulge?



You trade coffee, tea, spices, rubber...you trade music, art, film; human traffic as commodity and more...what I don't expect is the import of national histories for tourism! Let me explain my bafflement here. In the Ardennes mountain region of Belgium, one with a long and complex history where the battle of the Bulge for instance took place, it has a little town. Within that town, a monument dedicated to the victims of the Ardennes offensive sits right next to a 'Red Indian' paraphernalia shop, one that has been around for apparently several years. Instead of battle of the Bulge souvenirs, you can take home feathered headdresses, cowboy hats and Indian chokers...

History rewritten through urban planning and design!

Kitsch me if you can...





Easter weekend is here.

Out hops the stuffed bunnies in all shapes and sizes; they hang from windows, perch happily at mall cafes and frame chocolate isles of supermarkets. Its not a sin to be furry and cute. Its their duty. Their presence is considered appropriate to mark this ritual event. In fact, we expect kitsch to be at places of common ground only to reinforce our social distance from it. The masses allow for the elite to exist.

So it is no wonder that one feels unnerved when one sees these creatures in their furry glory infiltrate your exclusive moments at what you consider a classy Belgian restaurant. While a real French speaking hostess serves a four course meal and punctuates your dinner at strategic times to make sure your wine glass is full, you see Easter kitsch seep through EVERYWHERE!

As you sit by the window, a wonderful landscape view of the hills of the Ardennes is tainted by a nest of eggs on your table; a humble potted plant is violated by gaudy yellow feathers shooting up from its soil and in case the message hasn't come through potently enough, yellow chicks have been let loose on the table. Kitsch has taken over as you consume your quail with white cabbage. Nothing is sacred anymore. Elitism is fraying, losing its edge and if not careful, will get corrupted by the common man's taste! After all, when have you seen ritual parade itself rawly in its full regalia at a Tiffany store or the Four Seasons?

So what makes this kitsch in the first place? Why is kitsch easy to identify and just as difficult to define? Milan Kundera kindly illuminates us on this, "Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says:How nice to be moved, together with all mankind by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes Kitsch Kitsch."

Packaged sentimentality apparently is on the rise...there is no safety in low numbers anymore!